With the Mzanzi Super League well underway and with each side having played at least 1 fully uninterrupted game, I decided to look at the best and most consistent performers throughout the tournament thus far and in effect, look to build a ‘Dream XI’ comprised of players from all 6 sides.
I will be looking to pick a side using the following ‘structure’:
6. Batting All-rounder.
7. Bowling All-rounder.
Top order: 1-4
At the top of the order, there have been a number of solid performances, but two players have particularly stood out to me. Reeza Hendricks and Quinton de Kock. Let’s start with Reeza Hendricks who has a mountain of domestic runs in all 3 formats but seems to have fallen out of favor with the international selectors who have instead opted for Markram in the 50 over format.
Playing for the struggling Jozi Stars, Reeza Hendricks has amassed 161 runs, in his 4 innings, at an average of 40 with an impressive strike rate of 123 runs per 100 balls, making him the tournaments leading run-scorer. This is particularly impressive given that the Jozi Stars have yet to manage a win their first 4 fixtures.
At the opposite end, we have the up and coming Janneman Malan, the youngest of three brothers who all play first-class cricket in South Africa, and who is slowly becoming a fan favorite to bat at the top of the order for the international side in the shorter format, replacing an out of form Markram. Malan set the tempo early on for the Cape Town Blitz side with an impressive unbeaten 99* in the opener of the season against the Jozi Stars. After 4 innings, Malan finds himself as the tournaments 3rd highest run-scorer, and with an average of 45 and a strike rate nearing 150 he is undoubtedly peaking at the right time given the Pro 20 World Cup’s arrival in 2020.
With the openers all but settled, let’s move on to the ‘backbone’ of the batting department. There can be no doubt that Themba Bavuma is a quality cricketer who admittedly has had a torrid time in the longer format of the game with the Proteas, having recently returned from a 3-0 drubbing in India. Having said that, Bavuma looks in fine nick, and in my opinion, has been the most impressive batsman in the tournament so far and I shudder to think how poor the Jozi Stars would have been without him. Averaging 40 in the tournament so far, Bavuma has found himself at the crease in the first couple of overs on every occasion with his side under a lot of pressure, and for someone of his stature to bat at a strike rate of 142 is phenomenal and I’d go as far as saying that he has all but cemented his place in South Africa’s white-ball side going forward.
Slotting in at 4 was a tough selection to make given the number of key performances put in by a number of players and I ended up opting for a name not known by too many in the cricketing world. Wihaan Lubbe, a 26-year-old who is playing for the Durban Heat this year impressed with the bat this weekend scoring an impressive 83 runs against arguably the best bowling side in the tournament, comprising of Dale Steyn and Anrich Nortje. Locally, Lubbe plays his cricket for the Northwest Province and the Highveld Lions and has been instrumental in their success across all 3 formats. Personally I rate Lubbe as a highly talented cricketer with a good eye but would argue that at this point in his career, he lacks the technical competence to score runs at the highest level against the world’s best bowlers on wickets that offer a bit of purchase.
As it stands:
1. Reeza Hendricks
2. Janneman Malan
3. Themba Bavuma
4. Wihaan Lubbe
Middle Order: 5-7
I’ve opted for a specialist batsman at 5 who has the ability to be quite flexible in his approach to the game, given the unpredictable nature of T20 cricket. This role may require the batsman to bat for 15 overs and ensure the side realizes a decent total or he may be forced to face the last 10 balls of the innings. Although he hasn’t spent too much time at the crease, given that he has in fact broken a finger, Farhaan Behardien seems like the ideal candidate for this role and he fulfilled that role perfectly for the Nelson Mandela Bay Giants in their opening game, scoring an impressive 47 at the back end of the innings and helping the Giants secure an impressive win.
The batting all-rounder was a simple choice in my opinion, and whether that is due to a lack of quality batting all-rounders in South Africa, or due to his ability as a player, I will let the reader decide. I am of course referring to Jon-Jon Smuts, the unbeaten skipper and power-hitting middle-order batsmen who offer plenty with his left arm orthodox finger spinners as well an array of cricket knowledge given the number of years he has spent playing first-class cricket. Personally, fitness permitted, I would argue that Smuts has the potential to feature in the number 6 role for the Proteas at the T20 world cup next year having initially been included in the squad that was set to tour India before being removed by interim team director Nkwe who cited his fitness abilities, or lack thereof, as his reason for missing out.
Moving on to the bowling all-rounder position, which I admit was a slightly tougher decision to make given the quality and depth in the tournament, but I think few could argue that Chris Morris has delivered for the unbeaten Giants on an epic proportion. The level of confidence and skill with which he is bowling at the moment is terrific to watch and his ability to bowl the conventional out-swinger with the new ball and then to get the ball to tailback in during the latter overs of the innings has yielded a bowling average of just 10.5 with an incredible economy rate of just 4.66 which, even by modern standards, is impressive in the 50 over format, let alone the Mzanzi Super League.
As it Stands:
1. Reeza Hendricks
2. Janneman Malan
3. Themba Bavuma
4. Wihaan Lubbe
5. Farhaan Behardien
6. Jon-Jon Smuts
7. Chris Morris
Given the unpredictable nature of T20 cricket, I think it crucial to always have an extra bowling option i.e. a 6th bowler. With the 2 all-rounders in the side (Smuts and Morris), I can now pick 4 specialist bowlers to complement the 2 all-rounders, who will make up my bowling unit.
The most Impressive new ball bowler, in my opinion, has been Junior Dala of the Nelson Mandela Bay Giants. He has bowled quickly and consistently and for someone who bowls a significant portion of his overs during the powerplay, he has a highly impressive economy rate of around 6.7. Dala has always been a genuine wicket-taker but has lacked the control needed to cement a place in the national side but very few doubt his potential and I believe he has definitely ‘come of age’ with the ball in hand and undoubtedly stands a chance to be part of that ever-elusive World Cup squad.
Partnering Dala with the new ball will be none other than the greatest fast bowler to have ever played the game. I am of course referring to Dale Steyn who even at the ripe age of 36, displays more passion, aggression, guts and just a genuine desire to win than anyone another player in the tournament. He too finds himself at the top of the wicket-taking list in the tournament, partnered by Junior Dala and Sisanda Magala. Dale Steyn’s experience and inability to feel the pressure is something that Quinton de Kock will rely on heavily as the Captain of the Cape Town Blitz I believe that we are likely to see him in the final of the tournament where all his skills are likely to come in handy.
With the 4 seamers in the side, I’ve opted for the best spinner to ever play T20 cricket and the backbone of South Africa’s white-ball attack in recent times. Imran Tahir, playing for the Giants completes, in my opinion, the best bowling attack of the tournament, partnering Morris, Dala, Burger, and Smuts who are yet be beaten in 3 outings. Tahir has utilized all the tricks that a spinner could possibly possess, offering up the traditional leg break, the googly, the top spinner and the slider at any point in time. He’s definitely made the odd batsman look a touch foolish at the crease at times, but there is little to be ashamed about succumbing to such a legend of the game.
My 4th and the final bowler is another lesser-known local player who traditionally applies his trade for the Eastern Cape-based side the Warriors. In the MSL you might know him as the ‘chubby bloke that bowls with Steyn, Philander, and Nortje’. Jokes aside, Magala has shown a level of maturity and skill that is generally only seen at an international level and his ability to not only hit the blockhole throughout the final overs but also to offer a change of pace has been great to watch.
My Mzanzi Super League Dream Team:
1. Reeza Hendricks – Jozi Stars
2. Janneman Malan – Cape Town Blitz
3. Themba Bavuma – Jozi Stars
4. Wihaan Lubbe – Durban Heat
5. Farhaan Behardien – Nelson Mandela Bay Giants
6. Jon Jon Smuts – Nelson Mandela Bay Giants
7. Chris Morris – Nelson Mandela Bay Giants
8. Dale Steyn – Cape Town Blitz
9. Sisanda Magala – Cape Town Blitz
10. Junior Dala – Nelson Mandela Bay Giants
11. Imran Tahir – Nelson Mandela Bay Giants