Time to find right T20 mix
The Proteas are justifiably ranked No 1 in the ICC test team rankings. They achieved the pinnacle of the most important version of the game with consistent and brilliant performances over the last few years. One of the reasons why South Africa has dominated test cricket is the fact that they found a proven combination in the long version of the game. Selections have been consistent and the test group is a very secure unit.
The same can’t be said for the T20 squad. South Africa has progressed to the semifinal of the World Twenty20 only once, and that was in England in 2009. It is fair to say that in the other World T20 tournaments, the Proteas under-performed. The reason for this was poor selection and bad tactical planning. It was not a case of lack of ability but rather the other countries adapting better to the shortest version of the game. The recently completed T20 tournament was a classic case in point.
The series against New Zealand starting on Friday provides an opportunity for the selectors to start searching for the best combination in this version of the game. Up to this point neither the selectors nor the coaching staff has known what their best eleven is.
Impact players win T20 tournaments. The successful teams in world cricket in this format allow their impact players to be in positions whereby they can influence the outcome of the game. The top of the batting order is a good place to start. In Sri Lanka, South Africa tried Richard Levi in the opening spot as the sole impact player. In this format of the game three aggressive and attacking players are needed in the top three positions. Most T20 matches are decided during the first six overs when the fielding restrictions apply.
This is the time when on good surfaces, teams need a top three that can take the game away from the opposition. A key aspect of the coming series will be to identify the best possible top three batsmen for this format of the game. Once this is achieved the middle of the innings should take care of itself.
The next challenge is then to find players who can clear the boundary at the end of the innings. Albie Morkel has always been identified to fulfil this role. He has flattered to deceive in this position and the Proteas need to look for other options at the end of the innings to do this job.
The other area that remains a problem is death bowling. Bowling yorkers at the end of the innings on a consistent basis remains a problem for South Africa. Dale Steyn is better early in the innings and during the middle. He has had his fair share of problems at the end. Morne Morkel started showing promise with some good spells at the end of a T20 innings over the last year but the Proteas need to identify two bowlers who can do this job consistently and successfully.
The visit by New Zealand provides the ideal opportunity to start finding some answers for these problems. They are expected to challenge South Africa to a degree in the shortest version of the game. Although severely weakened due to internal squabbles and injury, they have a few players who are dangerous in the shortest form of the game. What the Proteas need is to test some players in the positions mentioned above under pressure. Hopefully New Zealand will provide enough of a challenge to do exactly that.
Being the No 1 test nation in the world is very satisfying. There is no reason why, with the right strategy and selection, South Africa can’t scale the same heights in the shortest format as well.