'Final' is useful to Proteas
There is a silver lining to South Africa’s nerve-jangling, one-wicket defeat to Pakistan in the fourth one-day international in Dubai on Friday.
With the series now locked at 2-2, the decisive fifth encounter on Monday assumes the mantle of a final and such a scenario, in largely Subcontinental conditions, could be particularly educative to the Proteas brains trust ahead of the 2011 World Cup.
Certainly it shapes as an ideal opportunity to separate the proverbial men from the boys in a high-stakes match where strong measures of both class and composure will be required and Andrew Hudson’s national selection panel, plus the team hierarchy, will be looking on even more keenly than usual.
It is difficult to imagine that South Africa’s recent, mild trend towards “rotation” will continue as the series is suddenly at stake – indeed, they would be well-advised to field what they believe is a genuine A-team and see how those soldiers react to the confidence placed in them.
There is at least one injury issue to grapple with, because Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who has been a revelation in the United Arab Emirates thus far, missed Friday’s encounter with back spasms and it remains to be seen whether he will be fit for a welcome recall.
But even if Tsotsobe gets a clean bill of health a place really should also be found for Rusty Theron, the promising death bowler who slightly unexpectedly sat out the latest fixture and might well have come in useful in another chaotic last few overs for the Proteas where they again let slip a good grip.
Pakistan had seemed destined, after all, to be shut out of the series at 3-1 when they were reduced to 244 for eight in pursuit of 275 and required a further 31 off 23 balls at that stage to give themselves a lifeline.
But that was again when South Africa undid some decent set-up work by turning “Crazy Gang” at an inopportune juncture in the field, botching a key catching chance, a couple of run-out quests, and allowing overthrows and the like as the batting team gleefully accepted a get-out-of-jail card.
The Proteas still look terribly vulnerable to the late-innings batting powerplay, partly because it remains a toss-up as to who they believe the best bowlers in that critical phase to be.
One who did generally stick up his hand again, it seemed, was Morne Morkel, who looks less and less like the mentally fragile customer of two or three years ago in pressure-cooker situations.
His body language is so much better and the lanky paceman is leading wicket-taker in the series with eight after his 3/48 on Friday – he is also going at fewer than four-and-a-half runs to the over.
Perhaps not too surprisingly, the leakiest seamers in the fourth game were Dale Steyn and Wayne Parnell, both of whom have had precious little cricket in recent weeks.
Steyn was desperately expensive in a stint of 10-0-79-1 on his comeback, his second worst figures for a completed ODI quota after the indignity of nought for 89 against India at Gwalior much earlier in the year.
But if consistent rhythm was lacking, the revered shock bowler did produce a few excellent deliveries and one or two that weren’t far off 150km/h.
He will probably play the final ODI on the assumption that his move toward normal service will continue and that he is unlikely to take as much “tap” again; Steyn also needs work in the middle with the Test series in mind, of course.
There was little wrong earlier with the Proteas’ batting on a pitch with a short history suggesting that anything above 220 or 230 will be very competitive.
They went way better than that and captain Graeme Smith rightly said afterwards that they had posted a “great total” – his 92 headed the charge and he played some crisp drives on the off-side to go with his customary prowess to leg.
The fact that AB de Villiers faced 70 balls for his 49 without managing a single boundary still served as a reminder that the Dubai International Cricket Stadium falls short of being a true batting paradise.
Yet Pakistan nevertheless scrambled to victory before a delirious crowd after the steep chase, and thus put South Africa’s ODI attack – and schizophrenic fielding -- back under an unwanted spotlight.
With a bit of luck the Proteas will hold their nerve on Monday and still nick the series against their fast-improving but also still fallible foes.
The last “home” ODI series for Pakistan against the Proteas – albeit actually in their own country in 2007/08 – was also locked at 2-2 going into the fifth match, and South Africa won the decider at Lahore (spectacularly, it must be said, from a thoroughly down-and-out position).
More of the same? South Africa’s supporters certainly wouldn’t object ...Rob is Sport24's chief writerDisclaimer:
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