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Wiaan Mulder of the Lions. Picture: SYDNEY SESHIBEDI
Wiaan Mulder of the Lions. Picture: SYDNEY SESHIBEDI

SA cricket should take every opportunity to pat itself on the back when something good happens, as it did at the Wanderers Stadium on Sunday afternoon when the Lions and  Dolphins contested the final of the CSA T20 Challenge.

It was a helluva journey to get there but worth it in the end as the best two teams over the course of a protracted league stage shared the final stage. It is natural that individual performances in domestic knockout matches and finals catch the attention of selectors, and often lead to higher honours.

The temperament of players is judged more keenly in big matches, unfairly in some cases (the exciting Bryce Parsons was run out before he could make an impact), but Wiaan Mulder will be particularly pleased to have delivered exactly the sort of statement performance that has been hoped for each time he played for the Proteas.

To concede fewer than 10 runs per over opening the bowling in the power play, especially at the Wanderers, was proof of his skill with the ball but his thunderous, unbeaten and match-winning 55 from just 26 balls at the end must have silenced those doubters of his nerve.

Like all sports professionals he will have heard the same lines repeated many times: “back yourself and do what you do for your club”. That he hasn’t managed to do it for his country (often enough) is a source of all round frustration, mostly for him. Watching him, it was hard not to reach the conclusion that he was trying too hard. “Relax and back yourself” — the words would have been in his head. Easier said than done.

Mulder has played a dozen Test matches and 15 ODIs but just five T20 internationals without a standout performance, though 19 Test wickets at a cost of 27 apiece is a fine effort for a fourth bowler. But he has played 104 domestic T20s for the Lions and Leicestershire, for whom he has been brilliant, and would be good value for a place in coach Rob Walter’s World Cup squad, which will be announced on Tuesday. The other all-rounders in contention are Marco Jansen and Andile Phehlukwayo. Is there room for three?

Seamer Codi Yusuf, 26, was another to impress in front of comfortably the largest crowd of the entire tournament, and 21-year-old leg-spinner Nqaba Peter evidently revelled in the occasion. Never mind the figures, he took a vital wicket at the right time, as he has done for the past two months. He is bound for national honours.

There are few more popular and respected cricketers in the country than Reeza Hendricks, who deserved to play in both of the past two T20 World Cups but did not. A consistent tournament finished with him accompanying Mulder over the finish line with 73 not out from 52 balls. He will be on the plane to the Caribbean, and rightly so.

A top six comprising also Quinton de Kock, Aiden Markram, Heinrich Klaasen, Tristan Stubbs and David Miller will allow Hendricks to choose his “game”: turbocharged anchor, accumulator (on slow pitches in the Caribbean) or rebuilder in the event of early wickets.

The Proteas first three games will, however, be played on Long Island, New York, in a pop-up stadium that will seat 35,000. The practice and match pitches were all prepared in Adelaide and shipped 22,500km to Florida, from where they were driven to New York. They were laid only last week and their first use will be when SA have their first net session.

Bowlers rarely get the credit, and the headlines even less, but they win more matches of T20 cricket than the batters. A bowler whose four overs cost 25 runs in conditions where 10 runs per over is “par” is effectively adding 15 to the target. Analysts and statisticians know that; newspapers and man-of-the-match adjudicators not so much.

Kagiso Rabada has endured a tough Indian Premier League (IPL) but has the character and experience to put that aside.

Anrich Nortjé has been hammered for 20+ four times in a single over during the tournament, “peaking” with an over costing 32. Evidently he is not bowling “in good areas” and he was finally dropped by the Delhi Capitals. His selection, or non-selection, may be Walter’s toughest call.

Left armer Nandré Burger will be in the squad, as will Gerald Coetzee, a regular in the struggling Mumbai Indians team.

Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi will once again form the main attack, while there could be a place for Lions captain Bjorn Fortuin. Cricket in the Big Apple awaits the lucky 15.

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