Thandi Tshabala and Vernon Philander will make their debuts June 21, 2007

South Africa travel to Ireland with an eye on the future

Ken Borland

Thandi Tshabalala finally gets his chance to represent South Africa after some impressive domestic performances. © AFP
South Africa's World Cup failure induced plenty of spleen-venting back home and the usual calls for fresh blood and old heads to roll. Their trip to Ireland to play India in three one-day internationals sees the first signs of a new-look team that is better equipped for the rapidly changing demands of limited-overs cricket.

Thandi Tshabalala, the offspinner who toured Sri Lanka last year without playing, and allrounder Vernon Philander, will make their ODI debuts at just 21 and 22 respectively. The likes of batsmen Morne van Wyk (one cap) and JP Duminy (eight caps) and fast bowler Dale Steyn (four ODIs) will also be unveiled to a wider international audience for the first time.

Jacques Kallis will captain a team that is without Graeme Smith and Shaun Pollock, both of whom are recovering from minor operations, but it also looks like South Africa have moved on from the age of the four right-arm medium-fast bowlers.

Coach Mickey Arthur spoke of succession planning and changing game plans to suit conditions (something glaringly absent at the World Cup) as his squad gathered at a Sandton hotel before flying out of Johannesburg on Wednesday night.

"We need succession planning in key areas to ensure we have a pool of players who can play at this level. A guy like Shaun Pollock has given us yeoman service, but he needs to be managed through this season and a couple of other senior players do too," Arthur said.

"We've identified Vernon Philander as a possible back-up as an all-rounder, along with Albie Morkel, who played in the Afro/Asia Cup, and Ryan McLaren and Johan van der Wath, who I've been keeping an eye on in county cricket."

South Africa have also, belatedly, identified the need for more variety in their bowling attack and the sheer pace of Steyn and the cunning off-spin of Tshabalala, the most successful spinner in local 20/20 cricket, will certainly give them an entirely new look in the field.

"We saw how useful pace was at the World Cup and Shaun Tait and Lasith Malinga were a handful. Dale Steyn has the ability to do the same for us, he's a huge asset," Arthur said.

South Africa's batting approach at the World Cup was very much to live or die by the sword up front, whatever the conditions, but the semi-final calamity against Australia seems to have put that tactic to rest.

"I've been monitoring conditions in Ireland recently and the maximum temperature has been 18 degrees and it's been very wet. So I expect the pitches to be slow and they'll do a bit, I expect plenty of lateral movement.

"So batsmen one, two and three really have to lay the platform for the innings at the start," Arthur said. "India have got a really good new-ball attack and Zaheer, Sreesanth and Agarkar can all take early wickets so we have to see them off."

The same trio, however, are not a sure-fire bet at the end of the innings and Arthur believes they could be costly at the death.

"We're hoping to get hold of the bowling more in the middle overs and then India's lengths at the end of the innings are not good, so we'll be looking to cash in then."

But all that depends on South Africa not being 27 for five.

Van Wyk, 28, is likely to open the batting in Smith's absence and is a prolific scorer at domestic level. This is his big chance and the Free Stater is a much better player than he was four years ago when he made his solitary appearance in a Lord's final against England.

Duminy looks set to inherit Ashwell Prince's number five slot. Also a left-hander, India have not seen him before but he is more of a strokeplayer in the Graeme Pollock mould than a placer of singles like Prince. He made his debut against Sri Lanka in 2004, cast into the deep end as a player of colour but only batting at number eight. Having nudged his first-class average up to 50 after 37 matches, the 23-year-old looks ready for a regular place in the national team.

Vintcent van der Bijl, the Natal bowling legend who took county cricket by storm in one season (1981) with Middlesex, has been seconded to the squad as the acting team manager, taking a breather from his usual role as Cricket South Africa's manager of high performance cricket.

Although he is six-foot-eight, there are few airs and graces about Van der Bijl and he is the ideal man to don the mantle of mentor on a tour that is unashamedly seen as a development exercise by the South Africans.

But Arthur expects his team to be highly competitive too.

"India are a really good side and they've played a bit of cricket since the World Cup, so they'll be more conditioned than us. But we won't be going there with any half-measures."

Seven international series lie ahead this season for South Africa, as well as the World Twenty20 to be played in the republic, and the first glimmers of a new dawn might just be on view on the sticky dogs of the Stormont Cricket Club.

Ken Borland works for the MWP agency in South Africa