Like anxious college students submitting their assignments in the eleventh hour, cricket boards across the world have spent the last few days scampering, in an attempt to announce the T20 World Cup squad within the stipulated time.
Of course, obedient first-bench students such as Australia and New Zealand were done with their work weeks before the deadline, but you had your quintessential backbench folks in the form of India, West Indies, South Africa and a few other teams who left it really late.
Some surprising inclusions and glaring omissions stood out. Most of them were, however, justifiable.
But three days on, one decision continues to beggar belief and remains unjustifiable. How could South Africa leave out George Linde?
Or, to quote South African off-spinner Dane Piedt, “How the f*** is GF Linde not selected to go to the World Cup ?”.
An inexplicable omission
Cricket South Africa (CSA) announced their 15-man squad for the T20 World Cup on Thursday, and, since then, the absence of ‘freelancers’ Faf du Plessis and Imran Tahir has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. While the outrage is understandable, one could still argue that there was a certain amount of logic in those omissions, given both du Plessis and Tahir played no T20Is in 2021. It is a situation very similar to that of Colin Munro.
But then there’s the case of George Linde.
Post his debut in November 2020 against England, up until the T20WC squad announcement, Linde featured in 14 T20Is for the Proteas. Tabraiz Shamsi (18) was the only other South African player to feature in more matches in this period, and specifically among bowlers, Lungi Ngidi was the only other player to even touch double digits.
Yet while Shamsi and Ngidi will be gearing up to represent their country in its quest to win a maiden ICC Trophy, Linde will not even be carrying drinks.
Instead, he will be watching two left-arm spinners who have combinedly played just over half the number of T20I matches as him - Maharaj and Fortuin - aim to do a job for the country whilst they try to find their feet in the shortest format at the international level.
For no fault of his own.
Linde had an explosive start to his T20I career, finishing with figures of 4-0-20-2 on a flat Newlands wicket against a devastating English batting line-up, after which he grew from strength to strength.
From his debut up until the day of the squad announcement, Shamsi (28) was the only other Proteas bowler to have taken more wickets than Linde’s 15. The left-arm wrist-spinner, again, was the only other bowler in the side to have been more economical than Linde (7.08) during this time period (min 8 wickets).
Linde was also the Proteas’ powerplay kingpin during the said period. Between his debut till September 9, 2021, the left-arm spinner sent down 18 overs inside the powerplay, the highest figure among all South African bowlers.
He not only picked more powerplay wickets (7) than any other bowler in the side, but also turned out to be the most economical, conceding runs at an astonishing ER of 5.9. To put this number into perspective, no South African bowler who sent down 5 or more overs inside the powerplay during this timeframe managed an ER under 6.9.
And yet, all that these numbers could fetch Linde was a sympathy spot among the reserves.
In fact, it is worth taking a deeper delve into the powerplay numbers of Linde - just to show what the Proteas would be missing. And to highlight how farcical a decision it was to leave out the left-arm spinner.
Between November 27, 2020 and September 9, 2021, Mahedi Hasan and Nasum Ahmed were the only spinners who bowled more overs inside the powerplay than Linde. Among those who bowled 8 or more overs inside the first six, only Ajaz Patel and Nasum Ahmed conceded runs at a lower rate.
Unlike any of the bowlers above, however, Linde did not play a single match in the sub-continent. And incredibly, 50% of those overs came against two of the most devastating batting line-ups to have ever existed, West Indies and England.
It is almost as if South Africa got inspired by India leaving out Ashwin and wanted to show the world that they could win matches without their premier finger spinner. If only the Proteas’ bench-strength was half as strong as India’s.
The real problem with the exclusion of Linde
Keshav Maharaj and Bjorn Fortuin - both left-arm spinners - leapfrogged Linde to find a place in South Africa’s T20 World Cup squad, and, to be fair to them, both are very good spinners in their own right.
Both the left-arm spinners, in their T20 careers, have an economy rate well under 7 and the two of them also impressed in the 2020/21 CSA T20 Challenge. While Maharaj took 8 wickets at a mind-boggling ER of 4.54, Fortuin’s 7 wickets came at an ER of 6.43. Both the players turned out to be more parsimonious than Linde (6.95).
But whilst their selection would have made sense had Linde significantly underperformed at the international level, the sudden decision to elevate them over the 29-year-old raises questions.
What prompted the sudden decision to demote Linde to the reserves, when he, in his last two games prior to the squad announcement, fared exceedingly well, returning figures of 2/21 and 2/26?
How did Maharaj come into the picture out of nowhere, after not even making the squad up until the ongoing Sri Lanka series? If he’d been identified as a potential T20WC candidate, why did he remain uncapped till the day of the squad announcement?
And how did Fortuin leapfrog Linde, when he, up until the Ireland series, was only regarded as third-choice?
These are all questions that need answering.
In the press conference post the squad announcement, Selection convener Victor Mpitsang said that Linde had missed out because he was an ‘all-rounder’.
"When it comes to George, he is one of the allrounders. He has done well with the ball but we have gone with the seam-bowling all-rounders,” Mpitsang said when quizzed about Linde’s exclusion.
It is a remark that is laughable to say the least. If Mpitsang’s justification is to be believed, not only did the selectors categorize Linde as an ‘all-rounder’ without looking at his numbers, they also preferred two bits-and-pieces seam-bowling all-rounders - Mulder and Pretorious - over him despite the tournament being held in the UAE.
It is essentially the equivalent of England leaving out Ben Stokes to accommodate a specialist batsman because he is an ‘all-rounder’, and then picking Moeen Ali and Liam Dawson over him - for a tournament held in Australia. There are levels of incompetence to this decision.
To stand any little chance of going deep in the tournament, South Africa needed to get their selections on point. Yet even before a single ball has been bowled, the management have done everything in their powers to ensure that the team starts the competition with a handicap.
Only time will tell if the decision to leave Linde out will be vindicated, but even if it is, chances are that it would be because of the logic of a broken clock being right twice a day.