ICC Champions Trophy

Proteas choke ... gloriously

2013-06-11 07:49
Ryan McLaren (AFP)
Cape Town - South Africa choked again at a major international tournament on Monday, only this time it was in the most virtuous manner possible.

The Proteas, you see, were architects of the phenomenon rather than victims this time, mercilessly throttling the life out of Pakistan’s batsmen at Edgbaston in what may well go down as one of their most competent and tigerish defences of a seemingly insecure total in one-day internationals.

It has to be kept in mind just how many factors weighed against them ahead of the 67-run triumph, which breathed necessary fresh life into their ICC Champions Trophy campaign.

GALLERY: Proteas v Pakistan

There was the “scarring” aspect of their bowlers’ unceremonious treatment at the hands of India in the opening match, the fact that they entered the follow-up game even more down on senior personnel than the last, the likely do-or-die nature of the Pakistani clash, and the additional drawback of South African support probably being dwarfed by a 12-to-one ratio at the buzzing Birmingham ground.

And yet the Proteas emphatically crossed the line, whatever you may wish to say about the perplexingly stodgy approach to the chase virtually throughout by Misbah-ul-Haq’s outfit.

“The confidence we’ve gained from this will be immense,” injured Test captain Graeme Smith suggested in the SuperSport studio afterwards.

Another former skipper of the national side, Shaun Pollock, hit the nail on the head in effectively explaining why the South Africans lost to India and bounced back so determinedly a few days on: “The short ball was the surprise delivery this time, rather than the (foolhardy) stock ball it seemed to be in Cardiff.”

AB de Villiers understandably enthused in his post-match television interview about how well his bowlers had stuck to a carefully-constructed plan on this occasion, whereas they had appeared to stutter so violently without a script in sight last time out.

There was great buy-in from the “stage hands”, too: the fielders were so much more clinical and purposeful than had been the case against India.

On a slow, patience- and intelligence-testing track, the reshuffled Proteas’ attack simply oozed cohesiveness and grim resolve to keep the gate closed.

It began up front in the new-ball spells of Lonwabo Tsotsobe and debutant Chris Morris, with the former stunningly parsimonious in his initial five overs that leaked a miserly six runs and the latter aggressive and suitably penetrative: his two scalps within his first four overs really rocked Pakistan, a side who don’t take especially well to adversity at the crease, back on their feet.

A platform laid, the sense of purpose and ambition in the field by the South Africans only mushroomed accordingly, to the point that swathes of the vast support base for the losing side started shuffling toward the exits several overs before the last rites were read.

Full marks to the Proteas’ chief tactical planners, too, for getting the on-day selection right: the call-up for a second specialist left-arm spinner to the mix, Aaron Phangiso, who earned only his second cap in a real pressure-cooker environment, surprised several pundits, including this writer.

Yet don’t be too fooled by the Garankuwa-born Lions favourite being the most expensive of the SA bowlers: nobody haemorrhaged runs too damagingly, and Phangiso seemed to only warm more and more to his task, showing deft mix-it-up skills as he completed a full stint, which was a tribute in itself to his level-headedness on maiden appearance for his country abroad.

Throw in the fact that batsman JP Duminy again turned in a very palatable display of off-spin, and the Proteas managed to avoid looking too light on the seam front - it is rare and contrary to their culture, after all, for them to go into a limited-overs game with only three front-liners in that regard and one of them a first-time element.

The player-of-the-match award went to that trusty old dominator Hashim Amla for his anchoring 81 in the South African innings which bubbled but never quite came to fullest boiling point in the challenging conditions, but it could just as easily have gone the way of Ryan McLaren.

This lower-order all-rounder has been a revelation in the UK thus far, and although the event still has many twists and turns ahead, he has staked an early claim to be one of the leading lights performance-wise of all countries on view.

McLaren’s Edgbaston figures of four for 19 from eight overs eclipsed his previous best in ODIs of four for 46 against New Zealand at Paarl in January, and his earliest salvo of 14 scoreless deliveries in this match went a long way to ensuring Pakistan got off to anything but a runaway start in the supposedly modestly chase.

He has now amassed a haul of 7/89 from two games at the tournament, and if you throw in his defiant 71 not out against India, the Kimberley product has really stuck his hand up for a regular berth in the Proteas’ plans.

The squad now returns to Cardiff to begin preparations for the daytime West Indies meeting on Friday (11:30 SA time), with De Villiers publicly confident that Dale Steyn will reinforce the side at a convenient juncture.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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