Cook’s age may count against him

‘Usu­ally what hap­pens is that the most out-of-form guy makes way when you have some­one like AB com­ing back’

CityPress - - Sport - SIMNIKIWE XABANISA sports@city­press.co.za

If the Proteas’ vic­to­ri­ous tour of Aus­tralia has shown us any­thing, it is that while the bowlers can be trusted to take 20 wick­ets in a test, the bats­men can’t be re­lied on to con­sis­tently score 400 in at least one of the in­nings in a match.

In the five digs they have had from the three tests against the Aussies, the Proteas scored 242, 540/8 de­clared, 326, 259/9 de­clared and 250.

For a team that has in­vested in seven bats­men – a sit­u­a­tion that some­times puts strain on their bowlers, as was the case with Dale Steyn break­ing down in Perth – that is nowhere near trust­wor­thy enough.

Or­di­nar­ily, it’s a sit­u­a­tion they would merely look to im­prove against a Sri Lankan bowl­ing at­tack prob­a­bly tai­lor-made for em­bel­lish­ing bat­ting av­er­ages, but the pend­ing re­turn of cap­tain and best bats­man AB de Vil­liers means a choice has to be made that in­cludes leav­ing some­one out of the start­ing XI.

Opener Stephen Cook, a gath­erer as op­posed to a scorer of runs, was look­ing good for the axe un­til he scratched around for 144 of those – al­most half of South Africa’s 309 in the whole match – in the Ade­laide test.

Had he not made his belated claim for re­ten­tion, Cook would have made way and the op­tions would have in­cluded shift­ing the bat­ting or­der around to ac­com­mo­date De Vil­liers.

Said mu­si­cal chairs might have in­cluded, among oth­ers, mov­ing Quin­ton de Kock to the top of the bat­ting or­der, hand­ing the keeper’s gloves to De Vil­liers, and con­vinc­ing the se­lec­tors to leave the cap­taincy with Faf du Plessis.

But Cook did score runs, and for­mer Proteas bats­man Ashwell Prince, who was also na­tional team se­lec­tor, said he was glad he was no longer in a po­si­tion to make such de­ci­sions.

“Usu­ally what hap­pens is that the most out-of-form guy makes way when you’ve got some­one like AB com­ing back,” Prince said.

“If Cook [179] hadn’t scored runs, he would have been that guy.

“If they leave him out, he can ar­gue his case be­cause he’s scored about the same num­ber of runs as Dean El­gar [161], Temba Bavuma [162] and JP Du­miny [184].

“There are four or five guys who have made more or less the same num­ber of runs. It’s go­ing to be a tough call for the se­lec­tors. I don’t know how to re­solve it. I’m glad I’m not a se­lec­tor any more.”

Look­ing at the idea to hand the gloves to De Vil­liers, Prince said it could be a so­lu­tion with a pro­viso.

“Per­haps ask­ing AB to be a team man and keep wicket un­til a longterm so­lu­tion was found would be the way to go. But you want him to come out and say he’ll take it on. Also, they’re talk­ing about him be­ing cap­tain again, which means bat­ting, keep­ing and lead­ing might be a bit too much re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Other play­ers who could the­o­ret­i­cally come into con­tention for the axe are Du Plessis and Du­miny. The for­mer only got into the team due to De Vil­liers’ in­jury, but there isn’t a South African who wants him out of the team, or not cap­tain­ing the side, af­ter his lead­er­ship in Aus­tralia.

Du­miny made a ma­jes­tic cen­tury in Perth, but went back to look­ing sen­sa­tional with­out trou­bling the scor­ers, but you get the im­pres­sion the se­lec­tors want to ride his rich vein of form for all it’s worth.

Prince came up with an­other op­tion al­to­gether, one that in­volved mov­ing Bavuma to open the bat­ting.

“If they do de­cide that one of the openers has to go, they could get Bavuma to open the bat­ting be­cause he’s tech­ni­cally well equipped – he’s got the tech­nique and a good tem­per­a­ment.”

Asked if the open­ing pair did not need to be split up any­way as they were both es­sen­tially grafters, the slow­ness of whose run-mak­ing put pres­sure on the rest of the bat­ting or­der, Prince said: “I don’t nec­es­sar­ily buy into that. Test match cricket is test match cricket. I’d rather have the team with a 100run open­ing stand with no loss at 2.5 runs an over than 120/3.

“There is no rush be­cause the guys com­ing in later are free scor­ers. Not every­one has the tal­ent of a De Kock, and every­one makes runs their own way. The point is to make runs, not how.”

But as loath as he is to make a call him­self on what should hap­pen, Prince gave some in­sight into how con­vener of se­lec­tors Linda Zondi and com­pany’s minds work: “I sus­pect the per­son to miss out would be the per­son least likely to play a longer role in the team.

“They’ll prob­a­bly go with the per­son who is old­est in the team and who has a shorter fu­ture in the team than the oth­ers.”

If that’s true, it would be a tough call on Cook, who turned 34 this week.

If Cook hadn’t scored runs, he would have been that guy ASHWELL PRINCE

PHO­TOS: GETTY IMAGES

CO­NUN­DRUM AB de Vil­liers is back and cre­at­ing a headache for se­lec­tors

POSER Stephen Cook’s ster­ling per­for­mance against Aus­tralia has brought about a se­ri­ously in­sol­u­ble ques­tion for the se­lec­tors

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