New Zealand in SA
Behardien’s big break?
Cape Town - Titans batsman Farhaan Behardien
is likely to be the unintended beneficiary of Proteas captain AB de Villiers’s suspension from the remaining two one-day internationals against New Zealand.
South Africa face successive, do-or-die fixtures in the relatively sleepy hollows of Kimberley and Potchefstroom if they are to retain their 50-overs pride for the time being.
Because the ODI rankings, debatably, change daily when there are series on the go - three around the globe, as we speak - the Proteas tumbled from first to third after Saturday’s shock one-wicket reverse in the first of three ODIs at Paarl.
More importantly in terms of immediate priorities, perhaps, there is now an inadvertently welcome element of pressure on the host nation just to come from behind and see off the lowly-rated Black Caps in the respective day-nighters on Tuesday and Friday (both 14:30).
Sunday’s ICC media release, indicating that De Villiers has been handed a two-game suspension
for a slow over-rate in the Boland, also makes South Africa’s task that little bit tougher, although replacement leadership will not be a major problem with
Faf du Plessis happily stepping in and Graeme Smith
and Hashim Amla
also in the current team mix for aid on that front.
Let’s face it, pressure wasn’t exactly a phenomenon that faced South Africa’s various “crossover” players in the horribly one-sided Test series between the countries, so a sudden sense of urgency has been introduced and their senior troops, in particular, will be expected to restore their lustre in a hurry.
It is seldom that the Proteas, batting first on home soil (even if on the traditionally slightly quirky Paarl pitch) can only amass a total of 208 all out, with 22 deliveries going to waste at the back end.
That was always going to give the New Zealanders a fighting chance, and they will be delighted to have got across the line despite so nearly making a pig’s ear of the chase - at 105 for seven and later 140 for eight, it had looked as though “normal service” was going to prevail with a thumping home win.
It was difficult to pinpoint any especially glaring failings by the South African attack, in spiritedly attempting to defend an insufficient tally at the crease.
Sometimes you simply have to doff your cap to someone like James Franklin, the experienced, 99-cap all-rounder who calmly and deftly shepherded the Kiwi tail to the target.
Most of the South African bowlers returned respectable enough figures, despite the defeat, although there will be lingering concern at Lonwabo Tsotsobe
’s unwanted knack of damaging his frequently commendable opening spell with erratic later ones when the ball is a bit softer.
Perhaps the answer is simply to try to coax as many overs as possible out of the lanky left-armer up front: at Paarl he bowled just five at the outset for a fine initial return of two for 12, so maybe that could be stretched to, say, seven if he is going well?
At a fairly advance stage of the match, when it looked instead as though the Proteas were going to prevail, some of the television commentators were speculating that Morne Morkel for Dale Steyn
might be the only alteration to the mix for the De Beers Diamond Oval.
That would be in line with the sensible, rotational habit of keeping the key strike men suitably in the groove for bigger, Test-match obligations to follow, while being cautious not to overburden them.
Maybe the defeat will persuade coach Gary Kirsten
and company to tinker with the side a bit more - and the De Villiers bolt from the blue now makes that an imperative.
The 29-year-old Behardien was the only remaining specialist batsman in the 14-strong squad, until hard-hitting David Miller
’s hasty addition on Sunday, so he appears a logical shoe-in for Kimberley.
A chance for Behardien would be both deserved, and educative for the Proteas’ longer-term planning.
He has played nine Twenty20 internationals and not yet set the world alight in that format, although he has only batted six times and three of those knocks are not-outs.
Nevertheless, he boasts a handy strike rate of almost 92 in List A cricket and might provide some timely oomph.
The brains trust will probably hope that lightning won’t strike twice on Tuesday: there was the rare instance in the first match of gnarly frontline batsmen Amla, Smith and De Villiers, who boast 383 ODI appearances between them, being bundled out well before the score had reached the 50-mark.
That is unusual, seriously back-foot stuff for the Proteas and pretty much set the tone for an uncomfortable day for them.
Greener players like Colin Ingram and Quinton de Kock, meanwhile, blew hot and cold as they showed flashes of promise before getting out when tidily set, but knowing the Kirsten way might not be brutally shelved in any great hurry.
De Kock had his shaky moments behind the stumps as well. That said, there is clearly something about the baby-faced international novice, in an all-round cricketing sense, and his errors will only have given new mentor Mark Boucher
some useful ammunition to work with.
There is no harm in some early hardship; many players who have flourished too quickly for their countries have suddenly found that drought can follow “flood”.
We were also served some reminders of how brilliant a fielder De Villiers remains when relieved of the glovework.
His alliance with Faf du Plessis in the general covers region was lethal at times, prompting a relative pioneer of hot-shot modern fielding, Peter Kirsten
, to enthuse in the SABC TV commentary box: “They look like cats on a hot tin roof.”
It harked back to the days of people like Jonty Rhodes and Herschelle Gibbs
stalking the in-field with aplomb for the Proteas in limited-overs cricket.
The host nation know that the New Zealanders suddenly have a vital bit of second wind on this tour; it should make for a pair of absorbing contests in the great South African interior...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing