India in SA
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Fielding is a Proteas plus
Cape Town – South Africa’s batting suicide against India at the Wanderers took some of the gloss off something that is suddenly looking a lot rosier for them ahead of the World Cup: their fielding.
Had they squeezed past the post in the second one-day international on Saturday and gone a commanding 2-0 up – how they managed to botch it at the crease still has many of us shaking our heads – I have little doubt that their earlier polish in the field would have been rightly cited as a key reason for a nail-biting win.
Instead the infuriating manner of the loss meant that some of the Proteas’ stronger suits, both in Johannesburg and the Durban ODI preceding it, were rather forgotten by their disgruntled followers.
Certainly the bowling and fielding intensity levels over the course of those two matches bode fairly well for the looming World Cup, even if the attack will obviously face sterner examinations of their skills and temperament on the Subcontinent’s various featherbeds.
But it is in the fielding department more than any, I believe, that the current South African ODI squad has been moving briskly in the right direction.
We need to keep in mind that in recent months, and also years to a good degree, this side has been in a natural period of transition from a fielding perspective.
The current troops have also arguably been haunted, rather than helped, by the early post-isolation brilliance in this area, when the South African team was the envy of the rest of the world for its catching prowess and collective athleticism.
That situation was greatly aided by one of the captains of that era, Hansie Cronje, leading by fine example as a fielder and insisting also on maintaining highest possible team standards in that regard.
Of course a certain Jonty Rhodes established himself as the premier icon of the international scene in the field – the backward point par excellence – and Herschelle Gibbs was an apt successor in that important neck of the fielding woods.
But with Rhodes long retired, Gibbs almost certainly now a spent force for the Proteas as well and some upheaval when luminary outfielder AB de Villiers took the wicketkeeping gloves at the expense of long-service Mark Boucher, it was perhaps inevitable that the once fielding “machine” would suddenly splutter for a while.
Not helping was that over the past year or two South Africa have introduced several new ODI faces like Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Colin Ingram and David Miller, and that can also mean the necessity of a period in which the captain and coaches gradually gauge which positions in the field are best suited to certain players.
The Proteas looked a work in progress – to put it pretty kindly – as a fielding unit in early-season, where their otherwise routine disposals of Zimbabwe over the course of three ODIs were marked by some worrying catching, ground-fielding and backing-up bloopers.
But they look altogether more competent and cohesive now, a few weeks out from the World Cup, which is at least one happy development in the lead-up period.
On Monday morning at Newlands, for instance, an infectious sense of competitiveness and sharpness was apparent as the squad split into mini-teams for some drills involving, among other things, “points scoring” for direct hits onto the stumps. There was much whooping and high-fiving whenever a player hit the proverbial jackpot.
As with many other teams, the Proteas do carry some players who are not the most naturally gifted when it comes to fielding – they have some especially tall timber in the pace bowling department, of course, in men like Morne Morkel and Tsotsobe, who are never going to find it easy to get down quickly to stop a ball rocketing across the grass in their vicinity.
And yet you also get the feeling that the pair are increasingly determined not to be liabilities, either.
Above-average catching and fielding aren’t any guarantee of a World Cup trophy, of course. But they don’t do your quest any harm, either, and South Africa seem in a much-improved spaced as a broad fielding combo ...