AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock may yet appear in the same South African T20 XI if misfiring players in the middle order cannot find form. That was the strong indication Faf du Plessis gave on the eve of the team’s departure to the World T20 after persistent questions over why there has only been room for either Amla or de Kock with de Villiers installed as opener.
South Africa only bucked that trend in the last T20 they played against Australia in Cape Town. De Villiers, who scored 0 and 13 in the first two matches and has been carrying a sore shoulder, was rested and Amla opened with de Kock. It proved fairly successful as the pair posted 47 in four overs. Amla scored an aggressive career-best 97 off 62 balls – following an unbeaten 69 against England in Johannesburg – to stake his claim and leave South Africa with a selection conundrum at the World T20.
“Hashim is in form, Quinny is in form. If we find that there is less form in the middle order then we have to try and make sure we have someone in form there,” du Plessis. “There is space [for all three] but in the next two games we will see who is the best there.”
South Africa play two warm-up games before their tournament opener against England on March 18 and du Plessis has effectively issued a warning to his his inconsistent middle-order men to get among the runs or risk sitting out. That means pressure is on JP Duminy, Farhaan Behardien and Rilee Rossouw to come good.
Behardien has not scored a T20I fifty – and in his position as finisher he seldom gets the chance to – and Rossouw faces a similar problem although his two half-centuries to his name. In the shortest format, recent performances are most important and that’s where the pair have come in for criticism. Behardien highest score in all his limited-overs outings against England and South Africa was 38 has failed to cross 15 in this last two innings and Rossouw has not made it to 20.
Duminy has only got more than 20 once in his last four innings and has seemed particularly scratchy in a season in which he as dropped from both the Test and ODI sides but may be safer than the other two because of his all-round ability. “The sixth bowler is really important to me and I do feel we are at our best when we have that sixth bowler option,” du Plessis said. “He is vital for that sixth bowler position.”
Against Australia, Duminy only bowled three overs in the series at an economy of 14.00 and went wicketless but, unless Behardien plays, he is the only back-up bowler in South Africa’s first-choice XI. Typically the South African attack features four quicks – either three specialist and one allrounder or two of each – and Imran Tahir which means they can actually do without another bowler but for variation, and insurance, du Plessis remains keen for one
Du Plessis also rates Duminy’s strokeplay and sees him as a potential finisher. “JP is a really good death-hitter,” he said said.
There’s some evidence of that, too. Duminy’s unbeaten 68 against India in Dharamsala last October, which was also the last time he scored an international fifty, helped South Africa chase 200 and came off just 34 balls.
As South Africa consider their final XI and ponder their reliance on Duminy’s experience, and the fact that he is also their highest run-scorer in the format, they may conclude that Behardien and Rossouw will not feature at all to start with. The prospect of a top six that reads de Villiers, Amla, de Kock, du Plessis, Duminy and David Miller could be too good resist and could be their best route as they seek major tournament silverware.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent