World Cup 2015: South Africa March 4, 2015

South Africa spoilt for choice

With Vernon Philander and JP Duminy set to return from injuries, South Africa will have to think about whether Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw, who have pitched in with strong performances, can still find a place in the XI

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Chappell: Abbott's made a case to be kept in best side

Choice is a luxury, but too much choice? That can only get confusing.

So it's a conundrum rather than all-out comfort which South Africa take into the final third of the group stage of the tournament in New Zealand. Vernon Philander and JP Duminy are expected to return from a hamstring niggle and side strain respectively and should slot straight back into the XI. But Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw's strong performances as substitutes are challenging the convention that injured incumbents, once recovered, have a free pass back into the team. The reasoning is that the proven performers are not so much queue-jumping as they are reclaiming their positions and the only way to replace them is to do it properly.

Some will argue that is what Abbott, in particular, has done. His two World Cup showings have been headlined by hunger. He just looks the part. He is attacking and aggressive. He swings the new ball, generates good bounce and bowls quickly. He bothers batsmen and he has the wickets to prove it.

As much as that has impressed his captain, AB de Villiers explained, gently, why that may not be enough to keep him in the side. "Abbo has played a lot of cricket domestically. He plays with his heart on his sleeve. He has a lot of passion for the game and for the team. You know what you're going to get from him and that's 100% commitment every time. He is a very easy guy to captain and the way he has bowled has pleased me a lot. But no one is guaranteed a spot," de Villiers said. "We will pick the best team for the conditions and the opposition."

That's why Philander may win. He has enjoyed success in New Zealand across all formats, in conditions that offer subtle assistance. And his numbers make his claim stronger. He has played twice as many ODIs as Abbott, taken almost three times as many wickets and has a better average. In 26 matches, Philander's 37 wickets have come at 22.37, Abbott's 13 wickets in as many games at 34.61. Abbott's recent form reads better with his four games in 2015 bringing eight wickets at 22.37. But Philander still edges ahead, with 10 wickets in five matches this year at 18.90.

Instead, South Africa may find it more difficult to leave out Rossouw in a tournament which is fast being decided by the strength of teams' batting line-ups. After an ugly duckling start to international cricket with four ducks in six innings, Rossouw has become a swan. His two half-centuries at the World Cup have come off the back of two centuries - taking his 2015 ODI average to 65.5 - and have kept both South Africa and their captain afloat.

De Villiers credited Rossouw with helping him get on his feet during his record-breaking 162* against West Indies, when Rossouw played the role of senior partner to an ill de Villiers. That innings was significant for much more than its half-century. It proved Rossouw's long-promised versatility can allow him to compete for places other than Duminy's, and this will bode well for his chances as South Africa are unlikely to go too many games without Duminy.

South Africa will find it difficult to leave Rilee Rossouw out in a tournament where matches are being decided on the strength of batting line-ups © AFP

Rossouw may be eyeing the top spot especially as Quinton de Kock is still struggling since he returned a month earlier than first projected from an ankle ligament tear. In the five ODIs he has played, de Kock has managed just 31 runs, with only one score in double-figures. But de Kock's team-mates, particularly his opening partner Hashim Amla, do not think the lean patch will last long.

"Quinny is an unbelievably talented and hard-working player, Not many people see the effort he puts in the nets. We all know he is due runs and that may not be a bad thing because when he does score, he will appreciate it a whole lot more," Amla said. Apart from promise, de Kock's importance to the team as a gloveman, which frees de Villiers up to focus on captaincy, may be what secures his spot.

That leaves Farhaan Behardien as the only other player Rossouw can displace. Behardien has had limited opportunity to bat, especially in the World Cup, but he is being looked at as a finisher, according to de Villiers. He is also a handy fifth-bowling option and has been more prominent as a medium-pacer than a middle-order hitter. Rossouw can point to his offspin as canceling that out and perhaps may even want to remind de Villiers that he could turn his arm over himself.

Should that be the best place for Rossouw to fit, Behardien may find himself joining Wayne Parnell and Aaron Phangiso on the sidelines. Neither the allrounder nor the left-arm spinner seem likely to be picked for too many games, although Parnell got a match against India. Importantly, it will show that South Africa understand the importance of using in-form players at a major tournament rather than riding on reputation. But for now de Villiers is simply enjoying being spoilt for choice. "To have as many guys in good form in a tournament like this is key," he said. And to have too many? De Villiers will hope he does not have to find out.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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