SA still wrapped in cobwebs
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - I never really had a good feeling about Gary Kirsten opening his account as Proteas coach in victory over Australia at Newlands here on Thursday.
And the premonition proved well-founded, as the tourists nosed ahead in the two-match Twenty20 international series by five wickets with three balls to spare.
If anything, the Aussies made rather heavy weather of getting over the line, some of their batsmen succumbing to unnecessarily flamboyant strokes in the run-in to their target when a more level-headed approach would have seen them home with greater ease.
But South Africa - resting some blue-chip names and also minus the injured AB de Villiers and Albie Morkel - will take some comfort, in turn, from just taking the match into the last over; it made the game seem deceptively closer than it really was.
And they will bank their “cling-on” ability in this contest as something to take heart from for the return fixture at the Wanderers on Sunday.
Certainly Hashim Amla’s side looked inescapably like one which had come out of an unusually expansive off-season, whereas a few of the Australians had had the benefit of high-intensity combat away to Sri Lanka some two months ago.
Nevertheless, there would have been some concern in the South African dressing room about playing fairly comprehensive second fiddle to an Aussie side which was fielding as many as four debutants in the T20 format.
One of them, the teenage tearaway Pat Cummins from Sydney, certainly stamped his mark by giving a few Proteas batsmen a fair old “hurry up”; he ought to test the speed-gun even more spiritedly on the Highveld.
The Proteas were quickly in a pickle after winning the toss and predictably batting first, with easily their most experienced anchormen, former captain Graeme Smith and current leader Amla, out by the end of the third over and a considerable rebuilding job required by a line-up not exactly blessed by great depth with the willow.
Smith, who compounded a miserable night for himself by dropping Aussie master-blaster Shane Watson at slip when the later-named player of the match had just two of his 52 runs, succumbed again to his known woes against incisive left-arm seam, whilst Amla was guilty of a bit of “lazy running”, too upright as he tried to make his ground before being run out with his back to the ball.
At least the 10 for two situation allowed some younger players, JP Duminy and the particularly less seasoned Colin Ingram, to knuckle down to the restorative job, which they largely did with aplomb, even if the Proteas still came up shorter than an ideal “par” score on a track with good bounce but a hint of a two-paced phenomenon at times.
The 27-year-old local lad Duminy is developing a profitable little line in getting runs against Australia: this innings of 67 at a respectable strike rate of 126 from the No 4 spot represented his fourth half-century in T20 internationals and third against these particular foes.
Sadly all of the trio have been in losing SA causes: the first was his 78 at the MCG in January 2009, when David Warner made his debut for Australia and truly walloped his way to 89, and the second two days later at Brisbane when Duminy scored a consolation 69 not out.
Nobody needs reminding that the little left-hander also enjoys taking Test runs off the Aussies: he averages 48 against them whilst his overall average is 28.77 at present.
The Proteas’ rustiness was really just as evident when they took to the field: apart from the important Smith catching mishap, they allowed the visitors to get out of the blocks too swiftly so that the required run rate never became a genuinely stressful aspect for them.
A few of the South African bowlers struggled with their lines, especially, in earliest overs, although to the credit of Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Morne Morkel and Johan Botha, they showed good ticker in slightly curtailing the damage as all of them ended with decent economy rates from completed four-over stints.
The new fielding adviser Mike Young has had precious little time with his charges yet, but will have noted overthrows and other glitches and higher collective standards are likely to follow - they may need to quickly, as the more “real” business of the ODIs begins as early as Wednesday.
Wayne Parnell or Ryan McLaren - perhaps even both, depending on conditions - may be in line for an outing at the Bullring on Sunday, after death specialist Rusty Theron had one of his less profitable outings for his country and was too easily smashed back down the track.
Hello Proteas ... that was your wake-up call!
South Africa: Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Colin Ingram, JP Duminy, David Miller, Heino Kuhn, Johan Botha, Robin Peterson, Morne Morkel, Juan Theron, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
Australia: Shane Watson, David Warner, Shaun Marsh, David Hussey, Cameron White, Steven Smith, Matthew Wade, Steve O'Keefe, Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Doug Bollinger.