March 24, 2015 / 3:39 PM / in 2 years

South Africa need to solve fifth bowler riddle

South Africa's Imran Tahir covers his face with his cap as he reacts next to his teammates after New Zealand won their Cricket World Cup semi-final match in Auckland, March 24, 2015. REUTERS/Nigel Marple

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa leave the World Cup ruing how close they came to reaching the final for the first time but will also know they never quite found the right balance in their side to go all the way.

Amid the tears that flowed freely after the dramatic semi-final loss to New Zealand in Auckland on Tuesday, will be the knowledge that they were a bowler light, a hangover from their inability to effectively replace all-rounder Jacques Kallis.

Left-handed batsman JP Duminy is an honest toiler as a fifth bowler option but the off-spinner’s numbers, despite his hat-trick in the quarter-final against Sri Lanka, sum up how he provided a pressure release for the opposition.

Six wickets in as many games and an economy rate of almost six per over is not good enough for someone expected to bowl 10 overs.

The fact that part-timer AB de Villiers had to turn his arm as late as the 37th over in Tuesday’s semi-final shows the lack of options South Africa had when looking beyond their frontline attack.

It is something the team has grappled with for a while and has yet to find a solution for.

Had they played seamer Kyle Abbott as a frontline bowling option in the semi-final -- he had both the best economy and strike rate among the South African bowlers in the tournament -- it would have meant dropping one of their top seven batsmen.

With strike bowler Dale Steyn out of form and seamer Vernon Philander battling with fitness all through the tournament, they instead decided to expose their weakened attack to the New Zealand onslaught.

The Proteas were perhaps buoyed by the ease with which they dispatched Sri Lanka by nine wickets in the quarter-finals, but how much of that was down to a woeful Sri Lankan batting performance is open to debate.

Aside from Abbott, only tall fast bowler Morne Morkel and leg-spinner Imran Tahir, who at times carried this attack, can look back with much satisfaction at their performances in a tournament that has been hard work for bowlers.

Settling on the right balance is the big challenge for South Africa into the future. They have the batsmen, and some in reserve, to set menacing targets.

But until they solve the riddle of a fifth bowler, they will always feel under pressure to defend against the top teams.

Luckily for them, they have four years to sort it out.

Reporting by Nick Said, editing by Pritha Sarkar

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