Australia in SA
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Kirsten’s sanity aids SA
Cape Town – The “Gary Kirsten effect” may just have played a role in South Africa suddenly holding the aces, arguably, ahead of the decisive third one-day international against Australia in Durban on Friday.
Kirsten does not believe in knee-jerk reactions to adversity or sweeping remedial measures if all is not necessarily plain sailing for the cause he is masterminding.
It was a strong characteristic of his during his hugely successful tenure with India and already there has been one obvious example, I suspect, of that philosophy being maintained in his earliest days with the Proteas.
I refer to the line-up which did duty for the country in the first ODI at Centurion - that game went the Aussie way with disconcerting ease after they had also been the better side in the shared Twenty20 phase of the tour - pertinently remaining unchanged for the follow-up fixture in Port Elizabeth where South Africa turned the tables with some force.
It would have been easy for Kirsten and his lieutenants to shake the bag after the SuperSport Park drubbing, but instead a stubborn show of confidence was the order of the day in the Friendly City and it paid great dividends.
Kirsten had spoken in a pre-season interview with me of a “10 percent tweak” being the maximum sort of alteration he envisaged to existing Proteas staffing in his broad quest to elevate them to status as the most revered cricketing nation.
Well, for St George’s Park a nought percent change to the team was the card he played - a strong statement in its own right and confirmation that continuity is something he values.
And the response from the players was invigorating, as fears of continued “cobwebs” instead turned to the sort of performance you might more reasonably expect of a fine-tuned Proteas side in, say, mid-January.
Previously misfiring links like Graeme Smith found timely form - not to mention landing some useful psychological punches over a known personal adversary like Mitchell Johnson ahead of the Test series - leaving only Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn of senior, staple personnel to still look in less than optimal touch at this early stage of the home season.
Even before the defeat on the Highveld in the first clash, the balance of the South African side looked pretty decent on paper, and that may go some way to explaining the stability of the line-up at present.
Unlike at the World Cup earlier in the year, when the Proteas bowed out to New Zealand at the quarter-final stage with Johan Botha as their No 7 batsman, this particular series has seen the polished and ever-competitive off-spinner more suitably deployed one notch lower, without any special compromise in bowling options for South Africa.
I see no reason why the Proteas, fitness permitting, should not field the same XI once more at Kingsmead in their bid to pinch the spoils 2-1, meaning that if they do manage that outcome they can also boast having done it without any alteration to their match-day team for the duration of the ODI series.
Amla may have managed only 32 runs from four completed innings against the Aussies thus far - two in each limited-overs format - but he has won three of four tosses as acting captain and will hope his luck in that regard continues at his home ground on Friday for the day-night meeting.
The last two ODIs at the venue, both also played under floodlit conditions, go some way to confirming that “bat first” is normally the wisest option - they were one-sided affairs in favour of the teams bowling at night.
Last season South Africa rattled up 289 for nine against India (AB de Villiers 76, JP Duminy 73) before bundling the tourists out for just 154 (L Tsotsobe 4/31) for a 135-run victory.
But in April 2009 the Proteas found batting second just as tricky against the very Aussies, replying with only 145 (G Smith 52, N Hauritz 4/29) to their 286 for seven (M Hussey 83*) and surrendering by 141 runs.