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Proteas need Morne Morkel to add depth to their batting order
24 Feb 2012
Rob Houwing

CAPE TOWN — Have New Zealand blown their only chance to claim a series victory over South Africa this summer?

Impartial analysts may well suspect that to be the case, after the Black Caps’ remarkable failure to close out the T20 international series on Wednesday, when a dramatic twist in the last two overs of the deciding match at Auckland saw the match swing the tourists’ way 2-1.

Generally speaking, the more condensed environment of T20 cricket offers “smaller” nations a better prospect of upsetting a superpower, so the New Zealand team and their supporters must be infuriated at their failure to cross the line there.

And as the tour moves steadily into more extended formats — the three-match ODI series and then the Tests — you would expect the superior depth and class of the Proteas to become progressively more apparent if they play to their known capabilities.

The backdrop to the first ODI, in Wellington tomorrow (at 3 am SA time) tells you much about why AB de Villiers’s side ought to be clear favourites, despite the Black Caps’ famous tenacity and “mongrel” likely to be as evident.

For one thing, the Proteas are third on the rankings, and only a decimal margin behind India in second, while New Zealand lie in a distant seventh.

They have two batsmen in the top five on the rankings — Hashim Amla first and De Villiers second — to their hosts’ none, and bowlers Lonwabo Tsotsobe in second spot and Morné Morkel fourth.

It has to be a big comfort that senior national players Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn and Graeme Smith now filter back into the mix.

Mind you, the Proteas will also field several members of the T20 side who produced decidedly chequered cricket in the three-game series.

One glaring problem from the T20 series that may return to cause some bother in the ODIs is the difficulty South Africa have in sustaining a healthy run-scoring tempo throughout their innings. In the T20s several frontline batsmen got a little too frantic and overly “clever” in shot selection on occasions and got out just when they looked set for meaningful knocks.

The 50-overs affairs ought to provide more of an opportunity for a measured, less hot-headed approach to accumulation.

I would argue that there remain issues around the depth of the batting line-up, with consistent boundary-hitters in short supply once you get past Albie Morkel at number seven.

Not too many years ago, tail-end players of his six-striking ability came relatively dime-a-dozen in the Proteas team, which meant there wasn’t absurd pressure on any single man to do the job.

If Shaun Pollock got out caught in the deep, for instance, there would still be a Lance Klusener, Nicky Boje or Johan Van der Wath to rely on in the closing overs.

Morkel’s critics argue that he “doesn’t come off enough” for South Africa in one-day cricket, especially as he continues to prove an unconvincing link with the ball.

Their case has merit, perhaps, but a sober look at recent statistics also tells you that the left-hander often comes in with no more than two or three overs left, and sometimes does not get to the crease at all.

For instance, he could be said have failed only once in the just-completed T20 series — he got 13 not out off 12 balls in the only defeat at Wellington, did not bat when Richard Levi had his run-fest at Hamilton, and was dismissed for 10 in a lone, pinch-hitting stab up the order on Wednesday.

He also didn’t get to bat in his two previous T20 internationals, when South Africa beat Pakistan 2-0 in the United Arab Emirates in May 2010.

Similarly, two of his last three ODI innings were short-lived not-outs in the home series against Sri Lanka.

I am adamant that the Proteas would be dangerously short of depth in the bowels of their batting order if they didn’t field Morkel.

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