Thu, 22 Aug 2019

Phehlukwayo: Who cares what the 'something' is?

23 Jan 2019, 16:37 GMT+10

Cape Town - A number of commentators, even some of the more articulate and traditionally on-the-button ones, will only stammer in awkwardly non-specific fashion that Andile Phehlukwayo has "something".

They don't get much further than that.

But we all know, nevertheless, what they mean.

That something isn't always there: the young bowling all-rounder is not averse to particularly innocuous one-day internationals among his tally, now, of 36.

In fact, until Tuesday at Kingsmead and the second ODI against Pakistan, he must have been fairly close to skating on thin ice in terms of both a first-team place and perhaps even status as a member of the travelling squad in May for the 2019 World Cup in England.

But when he does fire, it tends to be very noticeably so ... and on his home ground he produced his most rounded showing for South Africa yet, earning fully-warranted player-of-the-match status as the Proteas levelled the five-match series 1-1.

Phehlukwayo joined what must be an elite group of cricketers - certainly those sporting 30 caps or more - recording their personal bowling and batting bests in the same ODI, as his 4/22 and pugnacious, unbeaten 69 were invaluable in securing the outcome of a ding-dong contest.

Fast becoming the "darling of Durban" for game-tilting, pyrotechnic-laden exploits there, he kicked off his fruitful few hours with polished, critical spells of bowling.

By the time he had finished his first eight overs, Phehlukwayo - generally settling on a model length but mixing things up occasionally with his canny knuckle-ball and the like - was threatening significant landmarks for economy through concession of only 10 runs on the spongy, but bouncy surface and bagging of two frontline Pakistani scalps.

A consecutive four and six by the No 10 surprise package of the visiting line-up, Hasan Ali, helped to slightly more than double those runs "against" by the seamer in his ninth over.

But then he returned - perhaps more belatedly than he should have? - for the 46th over, finally cleaning up both Ali (59) and captain Sarfraz Ahmed (41) to swiftly quell the sting in the tail.

"He only bowls medium pace, but he just knows how to pick up wickets," observed former national captain Graeme Smith on SuperSport commentary.

Of that there can be little doubt: Phehlukwayo may be susceptible to "tap" on certain decks, but he is now only two wickets short of 50 in the format.

If he gets there in his next (37th) match, he will have hit the landmark ahead of more illustrious strike factors such as Wasim Akram, Courtney Walsh, Allan Donald, Makhaya Ntini, Tim Southee and Malcolm Marshall.

The 22-year-old's job was certainly only half done, at best, by the innings break at Kingsmead because soon his more secondary trade - batting - would be put to the most acid examination. (It's been tested enough before, remember, and convinced only sporadically.)

That was facilitated by the fact that the SA top order, not for the first time in recent months, performed undesirably shakily and "Lucky" strode to the middle at 80 for five in pursuit of 204, and the fixture seriously in the balance.

This writer is unpopular among a certain lobby - at least on the vent-before-you-think forum of Twitter - for daring to suggest (and I'm still quite adamant about it) that Phehlukwayo is not ideally suited at this still-fledgling stage of his Proteas career to the No 7 slot, where a healthy dose of orthodoxy in batsmanship still seems the correct medicine if they can make that happen personnel-wise.

Past heavy-scorer Smith, for the record, also believes the incumbent is one place too high and would be a more comforting fit at eight.

But South Africa are not ideally balanced in team composition in limited-overs cricket, as we know, so No 7 it is for the player, as things stand.

On the night, and in the all-important scorebook, Phehlukwayo allayed the fears: you can't argue too much about 69 not out off 80 deliveries, and especially with the Proteas - anchored by the mini-revelation from two ODIs who is the Lions' Rassie van der Dussen - powering over the line without further loss of a wicket after a century alliance.

Aided greatly by Van der Dussen's more measured but still effervescent approach, the less specialist of the two rode his fortune quite outrageously at times, but in between would also produce some sparkling drives along the deck or wondrously clean lofted thumps.

Phehlukwayo doesn't seem to bat by the "rules"; doesn't seem inclined to alter tempo even when it is plainly apparent that some nudges and prods would be enough to finish the job with ample time to spare.

In rugby they'd say he was instinctive, mercurial, single-minded ... but coaches in that sport are often urged not to place the shackles on such customers, so why should cricket be significantly different?

Lingering warts and all, Phehlukwayo plays with an immunity to fear.

It wouldn't be the worst hallmark to have in the Proteas' midst at the World Cup, particularly bearing in mind some of the reasons for past heartbreaks in the event.

And will it even matter what the full list of ingredients to Phehlukwayo's "something" as a cricketer are, if he plays more regularly like the dynamo of Durban he was on Tuesday?

Gee, though, I still wish he could be at bloody No 8.

*Follow our chief writer: @RobHouwing

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