Cape Town – There are just 10 ODIs scheduled for South Africa between now and their 2019 World Cup opener against hosts England on May 30 at The Oval.
Time is running out.
The hope for the Proteas brains trust had been that they would be close to settled on their final squad of 15 for the World Cup by the time their five-match ODI series against Pakistan got underway on January 19.
But when CSA on Thursday announced a squad of 14 for the first two ODIs against Pakistan, it became clear that some selections are still up in the air.
Speaking to Sport24 shortly after the squad was announced, CSA convenor of selectors Linda Zondi revealed that a new deadline had been set.
The Pakistan series will now be the last chance for experimentation, and Zondi says that when their five-match series against Sri Lanka gets underway in March, they will be “99%” settled on their final squad of 15.
On Thursday Aiden Markram, Chris Morris and Farhaan Behardien were the notable players left out of the squad for the first two ODIs against Pakistan having been part of the touring party to Australia the last time South Africa were on ODI duty.
Markram is struggling with a bruised thigh, but that injury is not considered serious enough to warrant his exclusion.
JP Duminy and Lungi Ngidi remain injured and Zondi is hopeful that they will be ready by the time the Sri Lanka series gets underway.
With the specialist allrounder position the major unanswered question at the moment, Morris and Wiaan Mulder, who has only recently returned from injury, will be most worried about what their omissions mean for their World Cup chances.
Zondi made it clear that nobody was out in the cold just yet, and we can expect a very different looking squad for the third, fourth and fifth ODIs against Pakistan.
This series, effectively, serves as World Cup trials.
“We basically know what Chris Morris can do, but we are still not quite sure what Dwaine Pretorius can do,” Zondi told Sport24 in explaining Morris’ absence.
“We really want to have options for every single role that we have.
“Changing the squad for the third and fourth ODIs will allow us to look closer at those roles and finalise what we are looking for.”
Rassie van der Dussen, meanwhile, has forced his way into the set-up after a superb Mzansi Super League and he will now have a chance to move ahead of Markram and Behardien in the World Cup pecking order while Reeza Hendricks’ good ODI form sees him retained.
“Van der Dussen is one of those players who gives us more options because he can bat No 3, No 4 or No 5,” Zondi said.
“We are looking to make sure that by the time we start the Sri Lanka serie we are 99% sure what our squad will look like for the World Cup.
“Now we want to open up and compare players to see what roles they can fill in terms of what we are looking for.
“If we get to Sri Lanka and we’re still looking at three positions, then we are miles behind.”
It all points to a Pakistan series that is likely to include some frantic rotation as players are given one last chance to prove their worth.
Zondi confirmed that Mulder was one player who was likely to be brought back in during the Pakistan series, while he acknowledged that injuries to the likes of Morris, Duminy and Ngidi were a concern given how they had limited their game time.
“It’s a major concern,” he said.
“We always viewed Chris Morris as a guy who could operate as a fourth seamer and come in with the bat and clear the ropes, and the fact that he hasn’t played is a major concern.
“But we know what Chris Morris can do even if he hasn’t got game time and we need to use these matches to look at guys like Pretorius and Mulder to see what they can do.”
The first ODI, on January 19, will be played in Port Elizabeth.