Cape Town – The time for speculation is almost over, and on Thursday the Proteas will announce their 15-man squad for the 2019 World Cup in England.
For convenor of selectors Linda Zondi and the rest of the Proteas leadership, that moment will surely be accompanied by an overwhelming sense of relief.
For months now, South African cricket experts – pundits and fans – have all put on their selection hats on in formulating a squad they think will be best equipped to challenge for a first World Cup title for the Proteas.
By now, we know far more than we don’t, and there will not be many – if any – surprises when the squad is announced at SuperSport’s studios in Johannesburg.
In fact, we can almost certainly predict 14 of the 15 players going.
Faf du Plessis (captain), Quinton de Kock, Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, JP Duminy, David Miller, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje, Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi can all expect, with confidence, to hear their names called out.
There had been concern over the availability of the fast bowling duo of Ngidi and Nortje, who were both ruled out of this year’s IPL with injury, but Sport24 understands that both are getting through rehabilitation on schedule and will be available for selection when the squad is announced.
Duminy, meanwhile, continues to undergo rehab for his shoulder, but he is also understood to be well on track to reach full fitness by South Africa’s tournament opener against England at The Oval on May 30.
The major selection headache for Zondi and his team remains what to do with veteran Hashim Amla.
The 36-year-old has only just returned to top-flight cricket after a month out due to personal reasons – his father has been critically ill – but there are no guarantees that he will be in the final 15.
If Amla is selected, that would mean that Reeza Hendricks is overlooked, and that is where things get difficult given that Hendricks has done just enough in the build-up to suggest that he is deserving of a place.
Markram was also in that conversation not so long ago, but his devastating form over the last six weeks has surely punched him a ticket to the World Cup.
Amla v Hendricks seems to be where we are, and barring a major upset on Thursday, one of those names will be announced and one will not.
For Amla, being left out would bring the curtain down on an ODI career that has spanned over 11 years, two World Cups and 174 caps.
The concern with the ‘Mighty Hash’ is based solely around his form, which has been inconsistent in all formats for over a year now.
It was always supposed to be De Kock and Amla at the top of the order for the Proteas in England, but that is far from certain at the moment and, crucially, there is no time left for Amla to convince anyone that he can find his best touch before then.
In four CSA T20 Challenge innings since coming back from his month away, Amla has scored just 57 runs at an average of 14.25.
It is obviously not fair to use this tournament, which means very little in the greater scheme of things, as Amla’s final judgement, but he needed to give the selectors something, and he has not done that.
Instead, they will be as uncertain now as they were over a month ago.
Difficult decisions, at some point in a player’s career, have to be made, either by the player himself or the selectors.
If that time has now come for Amla, then this call will be a tough one to take given the timing. He, like everyone else, is desperate to go to the World Cup.
Amla being omitted would cause more of an outcry than Amla being included, but there can be no room for sentiment when selecting this 15-man army.
Regardless of what happens on Thursday, Amla will always be one of the greats of South African cricket; a man who was once viewed as near-invincible.
If it is the end of the road, it has been one hell of a ride …
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