Devil’s Advocate on Player Selection

With the contrasting conditions in international cricket and domestic cricket, it’s easy to perform well in the latter.

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Let’s take time to think of something before discussing nothing. Image: indianexpress.com

As the strangely open-minded person that I am, I’m always having scenarios play in my head about things that could happen if they went which-ever way. That means that I’ll hear someone’s argument to something I totally disagree on and see that their way of thinking can make sense, in a weird way. Sometimes, this can be a disadvantage in having an opinion and not changing it.

Recently, I was having a discussion on Twitter with two people on where Quinton de Kock should bat in the test format. His attacking nature and ability to score runs when needed is one that is extremely valued and appreciated in the Proteas team. Now these tweeps I was conversing with were sure that he should bat at 4 because of his runs-churning way of playing, but I disagreed. He is too valuable of a player to have higher than 6 if the top order has a collapse, and then has no time to rest before going to keep wicket. Who bats, if Quinny is at 7, after him? Philander? If the top six only manages to get 175-6 in the first innings to put up a total, it will be QdK and Vernon trying to rescue the innings, for sure. But what if QdK was batting higher up and Bavuma went out slightly cheaply? Vernon would end up batting with the tail. I was convinced that he should bat higher up, up until this third test match against England. If we are to place him any higher, the highest should be 5 or 6. Him being an attacking player in a spot where you need to grind it out if the opening pair go out is a little too risky, in my opinion. If a collapse happens and he’s part of the top 4, there is a valuable player gone out.

Another thing I’ve seen amongst Twitter fans is how we (yes, I do it too, but I’ve tried not to) say one thing when things are going well about a certain player/players, but call for his/their head when they play appallingly. Now, I will say that I often eat slices of humble pie to feed a family of sextuplets, hence now I try look at things more objectively. One thing I’ve realised, clearer that ever, is that Sunfoil Series (four-day domestic cricket in South Africa) and international cricket are EXTREMELY difficult. And the reason a lot of the players do well there is because the players in that set up are, with all possible respect, are not international level yet which makes them a lot easier to face… especially if they have been playing for a club for a number of years. Hence the problem we face with Heino Kuhn now. He is extremely talented, and many people were calling for him to play in the test squad as far as last year August against New Zealand for the misplaced two-test series in South Africa. Now that he’s in the squad, he isn’t really making an overly amazing impression; there are calls for the young Aiden Markram to replace him. But, what if he too does not live up to our expectations of him and goes out for less than ten if he debuts in the last match of this series? Should he also get dropped because he’s not good enough? If not, should we not take the same approach when looking at Kuhn and be more patient?

The CSA selectors, bless them, are also now in the firing line for the performances of the team. For example; the selection of Chris Morris over Dwaine Pretorius is one that is being talked about often. Personally, I didn’t have any expectation of him in this series because I know how erratic and expensive he can be. Don’t get me wrong; the guy’s got pace and skill and bowls a mean yorker, good with the bat at the back-end of an innings, but he’s too all over the place when bowling, and expensive. And he also selected because of his ability to bat with the tail. In this series, he’s yet to prove it. What the sad thing is, I had a feeling he would perform like this in the series. So I was secretly hoping de Bruyn would come back in the side, as it wasn’t really fair for him to get the chop in that game or this one. It would have been extremely great for Pretorius to play in this tour, but one cannot guarantee for sure that he would have made many dents in the England batting line-up. We’ll never know, sure, but it’s pretty unfair to assume he would and then fans become disappointed with him and say he’s not international standard if he performs below-par. I am a very big fan of Pretorius, but we cannot be sure he would have been selected in the first eleven, let alone a key player in the line up.

cricbuzzcom1
Good in patches, but Morris is not really good for tests. Image: cricbuzz.com

I can understand why CSA would not field more than one debutant in the eleven as opposed to Australia and England. However, what may work for other countries may not work us, too. You want to field your best eleven with players that have faced against tough opposition. With that being said, I get that you would want to see how new players fair in the international circuit, but when I think of that, I think immediately back to the Sri Lanka 3-match T20 series. We gave more than four guys a debut in each team, with Lungi Ngidi being the only permanent prospect to play for South Africa. We lost that series 2-1, and deservedly so. In those games, we had players pay poor shot selection, dropped catches, and missed run-outs. It may not seem like a valid example because of the cries for international T20 series to be scrapped, but it’s still something to think about in terms of selecting many debutants in a match/series. CSA should think a little more in terms of what they want from the team when selecting one, apart from just winning. Do they want to just win to heighten our chances at moving to number 1 in rankings, or do they want that to happen while given guys the experience they need for the future?

This article is not meant to pick and choose a side in the way things are being discussed, but more to say let’s look at both sides of the story before we cast major judgement. If the pros out-weight the cons, then great; if not, then okay.

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