South Africa are certain about two-thirds of their 2019 World Cup squad after their series win in Sri Lanka, according to coach Ottis Gibson, who hopes to have his tournament template ready by the home summer. The main questions appear to be in the bowling department, where South Africa seem spoilt for choice having rested several of their experienced players on the tour.
Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, Junior Dala, Wiaan Mulder, Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj did duty in Sri Lanka, and have 112 caps between them, less than half of Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir and Chris Morris’ combined tally of 235 matches. All ten of them are unlikely to find spots in the World Cup squad, which leaves Gibson and the selectors with decisions to make over the coming matches – South Africa play Zimbabwe and Australia – before entering the final 10 fixtures against Pakistan and Sri Lanka ahead of the World Cup.
“Right now it would be 10 spots out of 15 (that we are sure of),” Gibson said. “It wasn’t all about winning. If it was all about winning we would have brought Tahir and all the other guys. But winning a series in Sri Lanka right now doesn’t give us a strong indicator about where we are going towards the World Cup. This exercise in giving young players opportunities to see where they are gives us a better chance when it comes to sitting down and picking a team. By the time we get to Pakistan in South Africa, we’ll be picking a team that is very close to the team that will go and help us win the World Cup.”
Gibson did not get into the specifics over which ten spots are secure but reading between the lines, it appears he would like to beef up the attack with a more experienced player. “We brought a very inexperienced bowling line-up [to Sri Lanka]. Not so much on purpose; it’s also who is available,” Gibson said. “Morris isn’t here because he’s injured. We felt Dale, maybe going back and playing some more county cricket would be good for him. We know what Dale can do in one-day cricket. Tahir, we know what he can do in one-day cricket. That gave us the opportunity to see Shamsi and Maharaj, and I think Shamsi has been brilliant on this trip.”
Shamsi appears to have done enough to be taken as Tahir’s understudy, which would likely leave no space for Maharaj, and if Steyn and Morris come into contention, it’s likely Dala and Mulder, who both showed sparks of promise alongside inconsistency, could miss out.
In the batting department, South Africa are more settled. Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy and David Miller are likely to make up five of the top six. Miller’s place, despite three scores of under 25 in the four matches he played in addition to sitting out the last ODI in Sri Lanka, is all but guaranteed. “Miller is very much a part of what we’re doing. But in order to see somebody you have to rest somebody. Miller missed out because we wanted to keep playing the two allrounders to see what they’ve got,” Gibson said. “Everybody was told before the series that we are going to look at other people.”
The No.3 spot, though, remains up for grabs because Aiden Markram has struggled. Reeza Hendricks made a strong claim with a century on debut but South Africa may still look elsewhere. “Christiaan Jonker was supposed to be here but he got injured, so we have to have a look at him at some point as well.”
As for South Africa’s problems against spin, which were once again exposed on the subcontinent, Gibson maintains that they will stick to an aggressive approach rather than cowering at the sight of their nemesis. “What I don’t want is for people to go back into themselves and start to think you’ve got to defend. I want guys to look to score. In the last couple of games, where we tried to defend, it’s a different story.”
South Africa’s next assignment is three ODIs and three T20s against Zimbabwe at home at the end of September, before a short white-ball tour to Australia in November.