Rob Houwing: Will Proteas be slow in field at Cricket World Cup?
Cape Town - South Africa need to be wary of their one-day international team taking on too much of a “Dad’s Army” feel ... especially in terms of the effect on mobility as a fielding unit.
There is a growing likelihood - as they further their preparations with a looming, three-match tour of Australia in early November - that the squad they take to the 2019 World Cup in England will feature several long-in-the-tooth players.
It has been anything but a well-kept secret for some time that the tournament, between late May and mid-July, should see the quite pronounced end of an era for the Proteas: several stalwarts are likely to bow out of the international game upon completion.
But against that backdrop, is there also a danger that the national team will carry an unbalanced look at the World Cup itself, with too much of a potentially detrimental leaning toward ageing players?
Now some seven months out from CWC 2019, there is a real possibility that their squad (traditionally made up of 15 names) will be dominated by players over the age of 30 - and in some cases very significantly so.
By recalling this week middle-order batsman and occasional part-time seamer Farhaan Behardien, 35, and all-rounder Chris Morris, 31, to the party to tour Down Under shortly, those two will naturally be hoping it leads to an onward nod for the World Cup.
But the pair also only add now to the growing list of thirtysomething contenders for CWC passages.
It is already virtually a fait accompli that in-form leg-spinner Imran Tahir will make the cut, although by the time the event comes around he will have clicked into the rare breed of cricketers playing in World Cups at the age of 40 or more - he reaches that milestone in March.
Perhaps the novelty factor dims a bit, admittedly, through the fact that the record age for World Cup participation remains Holland’s Barbadian-born batsman Nolan Clarke, who graced the 1996 tournament at a remarkable 47.
But Tahir will still be much more of an exception than a norm, age-wise, at CWC 2019, despite his evergreen skill and enthusiasm and conscious, fruit-bearing effort to work especially hard on his fielding agility in late career.
He looks like being far from alone in the “veteran” category for the Proteas, though.
Bearing in mind that Morris has a very good chance of going - Behardien may have to push really hard over the next few months to clinch a ticket - South Africa will also, fitness and other factors permitting, almost certainly include Faf du Plessis (34), Hashim Amla (he will be 36 by then), JP Duminy (he’ll be 35), Dale Steyn (35) ... and perhaps also seam-bowling ace Vernon Philander (34 during the tournament) if it is acknowledged his strengths will come in handy in English climes.
Also to chew on is that big-hitting “finisher” David Miller will turn 30 during the World Cup.
That serves as an indication that the average age of the Proteas squad at next year’s event may well be a lot higher than is generally deemed ideal.
Not helping the danger that they will not exactly be a collective bunch of whippets in the field is that the other SA “mystery spinner” well in contention for a first personal crack at a World Cup, Tabraiz Shamsi, is also slightly cumbersome and erratic as a fielder.
Shamsi is a more agreeable 28, but his conditioning is perhaps not as tip-top as it could be and it would enhance his selection cause for the World Cup if he can trim down a little in the interim period to enhance his mobility - he could be an invaluable spin ally to Tahir if the pitches in the UK are receptive to turn, as some experts believe they will.
One saving grace when it comes to the risk of a Proteas side being made up noticeably of veterans is that a few of them have managed to remain suitably nimble and sharp in the field despite the inevitable ravages of time.
Into that category fall men like Du Plessis and Duminy, while the likes of speedsters Steyn and Morris are renowned for their strong throwing arms.
Still, particularly when South Africa’s rich tradition for sublime Rhodes, Cronje and Gibbs-like exploits in the field is taken into account, coach Ottis Gibson and his lieutenants may have to think carefully about how they shape their XIs in limited-overs cricket over the next few months to ensure they curb any overly ponderous tendencies ...
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