After watching the carnage unfold from the vantage point of the wooden benches at the Wanderers on Saturday, it was hard not to think that South Africa’s second team would have little trouble humbling Sri Lanka on home soil.
After all, it’s one thing for a batting lineup to be skittled by the likes of Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander; it’s another thing entirely to have the debutant Duanne Olivier and the almost forgotten Wayne Parnell combine to produce 11 wickets for just 146 runs.
Thankfully for the visitors, their woes against the red ball on hard South African surfaces are over. The two teams now turn their attention to the shortest format of the game as the first of three T20s kicks off in Centurion on Friday. The Sri Lankans will be desperate to show the world that they still have the potential to compete outside of the subcontinent and will be leaving no stone unturned in their preparation.
The only thing is, most of the players they will be up against are relatively unknown entities and doing the necessary homework will be difficult. South Africa will be without the likes of Rabada, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy and AB de Villiers as they seek to blood new talent.
Leading this crop of fresh faced newcomers is Farhaan Behardien, a man who polarises opinion like no other in the Republic. Largely labelled an exceptional domestic player but not quite up to standard for international duties, Behardien has a chance to prove his doubters wrong.
He comes into this series in sensational form. As part of the Titans’ championship winning side under coach Mark Boucher, Behardien was the third highest run scorer in the competition. As the most devastating finisher on the domestic circuit, he ended the campaign with an average of 117.33 and strike rate of 188.23. With the exception of AB de Villiers, no other South African has the ability to turn ones into twos at the end of an innings when the field is spread – a vital and often overlooked component of death batting.
At the top of the order will be Jon-Jon Smuts. The 28 year old from the Warriors must have thought his window of opportunity to represent his country had closed, but after topping the runs scorers’ list with 371 runs at 41.22 against the new ball he cemented his spot in this side. He will most likely be joined by the experienced campaigner Heino Kuhn, who down the years has been unfortunate not to crack the nod at the elite level and will likely view this series as his final audition.
A little further down the order is the exciting prospect Theunis de Bruyn. At 24 years old, this prodigious stroke maker has been earmarked by the national selectors for great things. He was an uncapped member of the recent Test squad, so will be familiar in name only to the tourists, but is now stepping from behind the curtain to take centre stage. No one in Cricket South Africa is putting any pressure on this young man, but all will be hoping that this series will be the launch pad for an illustrious career.
With only Imran Tahir and Aaron Phangiso amongst the bowlers who featured in South Africa’s disastrous World T20 campaign in March last year, Behardien will largely entrust the wicket taking responsibilities to two young seamers. Lundi Ngidi had a statistically unremarkable domestic season but has been selected on potential. He is still raw at just 20 years old but has all the makings of a truly dangerous fast bowler who is already pushing the speedometer past 140km/h. If the Sri Lankans thought their challenges against the short ball were over they had best think again.
Sharing the new ball duties with Ngidi will most likely be Andile Phehlukwayo. Like Ngidi, he is only 20 years old but has already tasted success at international level. He was South Africa’s highest wicket taker in the recent ODI series against Australia and his ability to put the ball where he wants it at the death belies his young age. Handy with the bat too, this combative all-rounder is destined for big things.
Behind the stumps, Mangaliso Mosehle steps into Quinton de Kock’s big shoes. Like many talented South African keepers during the Mark Boucher era, Mosehle will understand that future opportunities in national colours may be limited, but he has an excellent chance to cement his status as de Kock’s deputy.
He is coming into this series on the back of a first class hundred and will be expected to contribute with the bat lower down the order. Now with the Lions, he burst on to the scene during the 2015-16 domestic T20 final when he helped the Titans to a famous victory by smashing 87 runs from just 39 balls. With his new team this season he proved that his thrilling knock was no flash in the pan as he finished this season as the eighth best run scorer and a healthy strike rate of 140.6.
Despite fielding an inexperienced side, the mandate will be clear. Nothing short of excellence will be tolerated and a repeat of the whitewash achieved by the Test side will be the target. Behardien has a lot of critics here in South Africa and he will be calling on his young troops to deliver.
Full Squad: Farhaan Behardien (C), Theunis de Bruyn, Reeza Hendricks, Imran Tahir, Heino Kuhn, David Miller, Mangaliso Mosehle, Lundi Ngidi, Wayne Parnell, Dane Paterson, Aaron Phangiso, Andile Phehlukwayo, Jon-Jon Smuts
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