Saturday, August 11, 2012

South Africa pick solid World T20 squad

South Africa have announced their 15-man squad for the ICC World Twenty20 to be held in Sri Lanka this September. As usual, the squad is filled with quality players forming the core of the team, complimented with dependable and reliable performers to round up a complete unit.

The top order:
Hashim Amla and Richard Levi will open the batting for the Proteas. Amla will be expected to stay solid and rotate the strike allowing Levi to do most of the damage. Amla himself is also an expert at exploiting the power play, and his wristy drives and flicks will allow him to pierce the gaps in the shortest format of the game.

Levi will be expected to go after the bowling from the word go. Whether he will manage to use his brute strength and power on the lower surfaces of Sri Lanka will be a good challenge for the opener with the fastest century in T20 internationals.

Rounding up the top order is veteran Jacques Kallis. Initially criticized for being too slow in T20 cricket, the greatest all-rounder still playing cricket has responded with style. Kallis played an integral part in Kolkata Knight Riders winning the IPL, and the stalwart will be relied upon to play a similar role for South Africa. He will be a stable presence in the middle, and can be counted upon to increase the scoring rate as well. Through playing in the IPL, Kallis has acquired the ability to improvise and go big against the spinners, a feature that will come in extremely handy in Sri Lanka.

The middle order:
South Africa's middles order is packed with game changers. First among equals is the sensational AB de Villiers. de Villiers is an expert at playing according to the situation. Adept at milking singles against spinners, once set, de Villiers can turn a match around within the space of two to three overs with calculated assaults and his sheer variety of attacking shots.

Faf du Plessis is one of the most improved players in the twenty20 format. Equally at home either opening the batting or coming in the middle to take charge, du Plessis is expected to have a big role for South Africa in the tournament.

The last spot in the middle order will either go to JP Duminy or Farhaan Behardien. Duminy's greater experience should give him the edge. Furthermore, Duminy presents the only left-handed option for the Proteas in the top 6. Throw in his useful overs of off-spin, and Duminy adds a vital cog in the wheel of this team.

The all-rounders:
For many teams having Kallis alone would suffice. However, South Africa are blessed with a surfeit of options in the all-rounder category. Albie Morkel will be an excellent third option in the seam bowling department, while his ability to clear the boundary in the slog overs is bound to be called upon in pressure situations.

du Plessis and Duminy are decent spinning all-rounders in their own right, although even in this regard South Africa have more options. Justin Ontong would be a straightforward selection in most other teams, however he will struggle to get a game in the presence of the under-rated Johan Botha. Botha's fluidity is a great asset. He can open the bowling economically if called upon, and has the ability to bowl in the blockhole at will, a quality that can help the team in case they are defending totals in tight situations. Botha can also be relied upon to get extra runs while batting towards the end of the innings.

The bowling attack:
Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel will spearhead the attack. Steyn has worked hard at improving his twenty20 bowling, and his bursts at the IPL earlier this year suggested that his best approach is to go full tilt at the beginning of the innings. Morkel will form the other half of the new ball attack, and his ability to generate bounce off a good length will ensure that aggressive openers are not going to settle in easily during the power play.

Albie Morkel will be expected to swing the ball, however conditions might not be the most conducive to his style of bowling. Despite taking plenty of wickets, the older Morkel can at times be extremely expensive due to his length which allows fearless batsmen to plant their front foot down the crease and give it a thwack. There are two left-arm seamers in the squad, Wayne Parnell and Lonwabo Tsotsobe. Parnell was once the next big hope, but Tsotsobe has developed a better consistency to his bowling, and his subtle movement has snared him many wickets.

However, with Albie Morkel and Kallis both featuring in the team, the Proteas could do without both Tsotsobe and Parnell, as 4 seamers should be enough in Sri Lankan conditions. Robin Peterson's spin might be a better compliment to the attack, especially as the left-arm spin angle is currently the most successful wicket-taking option in twenty20 cricket. Add in to the equation Peterson's penchant for lusty hitting in the slog overs, and the balance seems much better with him in the side.

Final verdict:
Under AB de Villiers leadership, this talented South African squad will be expected to bring the trophy home. There are a host of options and the variety in the squad is the envy of many.

Kallis and de Villiers will be expected to carry most of the responsibility with the bat, while du Plessis and Albie Morkel will be called upon to accelerate the strike rate in the slog overs. If Amla and Levi can get the team off to a flyer in the power play, South Africa should be primed to get good totals.

The bowling attack is extremely well-balanced, and not many teams are likely to get big totals against the Proteas. There is a concern however, that there might be too many options. de Villiers will have to be careful not to fall into a trap whereby he keeps changing bowlers just because he has so many options, a flaw that Graeme Smith suffered from when captaining the team in limited overs cricket.

With brilliant batsmen, exceptional power-hitters and unparalleled variety in the bowling attack, South Africa should breeze through the group stages and qualify from the Super Eights. It is in the knock-out games that questions arise. Ultimately for South Africa, it isn't about the talent and ability. It's about mental strength. If the Proteas can conquer their demons and display the requisite mental fortitude, then there is every chance that they could win their first international trophy.