'Form first, reputation next' - Ottis Gibson on South Africa's World Cup selection
South Africa's coach also said the likes of Rabada, du Plessis and de Kock will be rested after the first T20I against Sri Lanka
With just two and a half months to go before the World Cup and competition for spots in South Africa's World Cup squad heating up, coach Ottis Gibson has said that form will be the primary criteria on which the squad will be selected.
"First and foremost, you want to pick on form," Gibson said ahead of the first of the three T20Is against Sri Lanka. "If there's no form to go with, then you have to look at reputation I guess. That's something that we'll have to look at. With regards to Hash [Amla], he's not played any cricket for a long time now because of his family situation. So when we sit down to discuss the team, that will surely be one of the things we have to consider."
Over the course of the summer, as South Africa cycled through umpteen options in their limited overs sides, it seemed at times that there was more confusion than clarity in exactly what the best combination for the World Cup might be. But, as the season draws to a close, Faf du Plessis has said he is '99.9%' sure of his team and coach Gibson insisted: "all in all, we're a lot further down the road than we were two months ago."
South Africa have handed out four ODI caps this summer, along with four in T20Is. Batsman Rassie van der Dussen has made himself cosy in the middle order since his early season debut against Zimbabwe, while Anrich Nortje has also made good use of his opportunities with eight wickets in four games.
"The one-day series gave us a good look at some players," Gibson said. "Obviously the result is quite pleasing going into the World Cup for confidence and momentum and that sort of stuff. But also we saw some good players. We saw Nortje come in and do really well. We've seen Rassie now for a while. We would have liked some more performances from other players. The likes of Reeza I'm sure would have liked to have made some more runs.
"He's [Nortje] has come in and played here and done quite well. He'll surely be in the conversation at the moment. I thought he did really well in the series. Even yesterday, in the last game of the series, he bowled really well. And he complements the other bowlers we have. One of the things that we've always looked at when we're putting together a bowling unit is guys who can get wickets in the middle overs. Him bowling first change with his pace in those middle overs, he is surely a wicket-taker."
National selection panel convener Linda Zondi has said that Cricket South Africa have co-opted the three upcoming T20Is into Vision 2019, their blueprint for the World Cup and there will be a little more chopping and changing as some regulars are rested and rookies are trialled.
"The first thing is that some of the guys are going to be given a break," Gibson explained. "Lungi [Ngidi] picked up a slight niggle in the last game. I don't think it's too serious, but he's going to be given a break. After this first game, KG [Rabada] is going to be given a break, and Faf [du Plessis] and Quinton [de Kock] as well, who play all formats. And then to continue from where we were with the form we've had.
"We've brought in [Lutho] Sipamla, we've looked at him in the Pakistan series. He looks a really good prospect, so we're going to try and give him some more game time. We've always used the T20s as an opportunity to expose new talent, and that's what we're going to continue to do with Sipamla and [Sinethemba] Qeshile. Hopefully, the guys that are left here, there's still an opportunity for them to get some form."
While the format is different, Gibson suggested that T20 success could well lead to further honours for any World Cup hopefuls who have not yet locked down their place. Several South Africans will also be taking part in the IPL - though Gibson is not particularly sure if performances in the Indian T20 league would help booking a World Cup berth.
"I'm not too sure about IPL, but playing international T20s, you still have an opportunity," he said. "We said as a selection panel that we've always looked at it like the Ryder Cup selection (a biennial men's golf competition) where the Ryder Cup captain has a wild card pick. So there's still an opportunity for someone comes in and does something unbelievable in the next couple of games. There is still a chance for selectors to consider that person."
Gibson also added that picking two genuine spinners for the World Cup was also in their minds but their selection in the playing XI would only be decided on that particular day depending on the conditions.
"If we pick two spinners in the World Cup, we'll pick two spinners with the prospect of playing them at some point. The tournament is six or seven weeks. You could end up playing on a used pitch somewhere, in a day game, where the two spinners will come into it. That's something we'll definitely look at. We tried to do it in Port Elizabeth, but the game didn't go the distance, and we'll continue to look at different combinations. And two spinners are definitely a part of our thinking at some point."
Liam Brickhill is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent