New Zealand in SA

Proven Proteas must return

2013-01-24 09:18
Jacques Kallis (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - South Africa may be closer than it currently seems to fitting their one-day international jigsaw back together again.

Following the shock home series loss to New Zealand, even with the third and last match still to be played in Potchefstroom, a predictable climate of despondency and in many cases annoyance is taking fresh root among the public.

Fair enough ... there were many unedifying aspects to the Proteas’ performances in Paarl and Kimberley, where opportunities undoubtedly presented themselves in each instance to turn the outcomes the other way.

The situation is a little worrying, but by no means calamitous: it was always intended that the respective ODI series against the Black Caps and then Pakistan in a few weeks’ time would include a strong measure of experimentation - a time of observation and box-ticking (or crossing!) for the brains trust as far as slightly peripheral members of the limited-overs international brew are concerned.

I would argue that at present the majority of the younger or at least less experienced players being trialled continue to be in an inconclusive, feet-finding mode, although the wisdom they are gaining even through spells of adversity may stand them in good stead further down the line.

It is also my belief that for the national team’s biggest ODI assignment of 2013, the ICC Champions Trophy in England from early June, a much heavier emphasis should - and probably will - be placed once more on seasoned, proven customers.

I would stop short of suggesting too strongly that the absence of many staple names from the batting line-up, in particular, has represented a credible excuse for the unexpected reverse to the resurgent Black Caps.

For their part, the New Zealanders were missing such surnames as Taylor, Ryder, Vettori and Southee, so that has to be kept in mind, although you would expect South Africa, with their far broader pool of genuine talent, to still be capable of seeing off these foes at home even with some rookies on board.

But by the time the Champions Trophy comes along - it may be the final edition of the tournament, but South African fans are desperate for any infernal ICC silverware, of course - the primary batting positions for the Proteas will, I’m pretty sure, be staffed by considerably gnarlier names once more.

Conditions in the United Kingdom in their early summer tend to pose special challenges, ones often best tackled by cricketers with healthy prior knowledge of what is required to prosper there.

I remain fairly convinced, even if there are sure to be people with very conflicting views, that South Africa’s top six to start out the Champions Trophy against India at Cardiff on June 6 (all going well on the fitness front) should read: Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers (doubling as wicketkeeper once more, as I’m positive he will at this tourney), Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy.

There is, of course, an argument that the top three I have listed is both a tad too “orthodox” for the one-day game and slightly long in the tooth, and that a younger firebrand is required in one of those up-front slots.

A counter to that theory is that no consistently high-performing alternative candidate has put his hand up, although Colin Ingram has begun to look a possibility again in the current series and might go to England as a back-up batsman anyway.

And if you have Messrs De Villiers, Du Plessis and a presumably injury-rehabilitated Duminy between berths four and six, there is pick-up-the-tempo potential in comforting measures even if some minor slowness in scoring rate has been registered from the veterans preceding them.

In Kimberley on Wednesday, South Africa gave up a vast, collective tally of 611 ODI caps when their line-up did not feature any of Amla, Kallis, De Villiers or Duminy.

There were notably fewer supplementary bowling options within the top six at De Beers Diamond Oval, too - restore the ever-reliable and canny Kallis to the side, with Duminy’s useful off-spin as well, and the balance of the team looks rather more suitable again, doesn’t it?

In terms of specialist bowling, the way I see it is that Robin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe (or Rory Kleinveldt) should make up the bottom four positions in the batting list, in no special order.

Kleinveldt has his shortcomings but more and more he is showing the right characteristics temperamentally, I would submit - enough to suggest that he is a fair death-bowling option amidst a pool of seamers not exactly bellowing out collectively or with conviction to routinely be entrusted with the job.

He can also club a long ball down the order, a further feather in his cap.

That leaves the vexing, to my mind, issue of No 7, a slot in which somebody like Shaun Pollock could often be an extremely compelling “finisher” at the crease before his retirement in early 2008.

It is a tricky place for the Proteas to fill these days, so perhaps to some extent a horses-for-courses policy should apply, depending on venue and calibre of opposition.

If South Africa feel they need to “load” their batting a bit, for instance, then the non-bowling but big-hitting David Miller is a candidate.

But if they alternatively believe that extra strings to the bowling bow are required, then an array of all-rounders, none of them amounting to absolute “must picks” right now, can be mulled over.

These include incumbent Ryan McLaren, the purposeful and aggressive Chris Morris of the Lions, the talented but sadly under-delivering Wayne Parnell and maybe even Albie Morkel, whose abilities (just not evident enough for his country, alas) I am not quite ready to wholly write off just yet.

There is reason for some concern about South Africa’s ODI capabilities right now ... there is no escaping it.

But there is also no immediate cause for panic.

The Proteas peaking at an ICC jamboree, where they are so glaringly overdue for success, is much more important than in a relatively unsexy bilateral mini-series against New Zealand.

By the time the five-match ODI series against Pakistan is played, expect South Africa to be starting to filter back some “hardebaarde”, in order to fine-tune for the English get-together ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing 

HAVE YOUR SAY: Should the Proteas field their strongest available XI for every Test, ODI and Twenty20 match? Or should we be developing depth and giving "fringe" players a chance? Send your thoughts to Sport24.

Read more on:    proteas  |  icc champions trophy  |  cricket
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