Pakistan in SA

Proteas at limited-over nadir?

2013-03-04 13:00
Scorecard (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - If you are going to get into a right old mess, then perhaps South Africa’s general limited-overs woes haven’t come at a particularly bad juncture, with fair time in hand to both the next ICC World Twenty20 (Bangladesh, April 2014) and World Cup (Australia/New Zealand, February 2015).

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They say it is all about peaking at the right time and the Proteas are anything but in that situation on either the 20-overs or 50-overs front - some might even suggest they are currently dangling on a rope with no clear idea of how to get out of the pickle.

That is the most optimistic thing you can say after the national side suffered one of their worst T20 humiliations in the lone match of the intended two-match series against Pakistan at Centurion on Sunday.

The lopsided outcome in the resurgent tourists’ favour means South Africa slip from fifth to sixth in the ICC rankings, whilst the Pakistanis climb two places to fourth.

In a depressing nutshell, Faf du Plessis’s side bowled innocuously for the first two thirds or so of the Pakistan innings, and then batted with manic ineptitude and pig-headedness - that after actually getting comfortably ahead of the asking rate in the fifth over, for the loss of just one wicket, and simply needing to consolidate and pause for breath a tad rather than commit the collective, skittles-like suicide they did.

South Africa have never yet quite got to grips with this format, even if it has rightly, I would suggest, been afforded lowest priority of the three brands of international cricket by them.

The SuperSport Park implosion meant they posted their worst T20 total of 100 all out, “beating” the 114 against Australia at the Gabba back in 2005/06, when the Proteas were playing only their second match in the format and certainly looked like it.

A glance through the Proteas’ various series (albeit that many have been of the one-match variety) only bears out the fact that they have seldom looked like a consistently well-oiled machine at this level, and it is not as though their record in the ICC World Twenty20 gathering every two years has ever been any better.

Probably their most routinely productive period came between 2010 and 2011, when they won three two-match series on the trot, although two of these came against minnows Zimbabwe and a West Indies side much less competitive then than it is now.

The only genuinely standout triumph of that spell came in the two-match tussle with the very Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, although South Africa have since slipped back into more ordinary T20 ways.

Some perspective is required: it was always the plan for this particular series for the Proteas to rest certain of their most iconic, stalwart players who have given so much toward the national team’s glorious ascendancy to the top of the Test pile, which still matters so much more to cricket’s intelligentsia (and long may that last, frankly).

We got dazzlingly-lit reminders of why, when major limited-overs tournaments come around, it is such a comfort to have the likes of Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel restored to the mix - consider also that a fit-again JP Duminy in a few months will make a heap of difference in both batting and bowling departments of the one-day arsenal.

So exposing an array of others to some form of international “trial” in matches of slightly lesser gravitas remains a pretty sensible policy: senior Test and ODI coach Gary Kirsten correctly believes that if certain young cricketers quickly “swim” in limited-overs internationals, they may also be capable of not sinking if later given a stab at Tests.

The trouble, maybe, is that we just aren’t seeing enough really compelling swimmers at present ... too many of the present squad (and it applies to some extent to the ODI staffing as well) flicker and fade in repetitive cycles, making it difficult to truly gauge their worth.

I can think of a few Proteas T20 players who must be flirting with the axe: Farhaan Behardien has not yet genuinely caught fire with the blade, David Miller continues to under-deliver for big-hitting X-factor in the international arena even whilst he often does produce the goods in either our domestic or the English county game ... and then there is Justin Ontong.

Aged 33, and with 42 opportunities across the three formats over a period of some 11 years to prove his worth for South Africa, the time has come to conclude that he just doesn’t cut it as a bits-and-pieces presence, however delightfully easy-on-the-eye and sometimes game-swaying he remains at the crease for the Cape Cobras.

His occasional spin bowling has regressed quite badly, and he was savagely treated by the no-mucking-about Pakistanis on Sunday.

Behardien and Miller may get chances in the five-match ODI series against the Pakistanis (starting in Bloemfontein on Sunday, 10:00) to make their presences for South Africa safer.

The stakes have been raised for the Proteas to win this series, especially given the shock concession of the prior home one to New Zealand.

Whether they manage that or not, with some luck they won’t look nearly as rabbit-in-the-headlamps as the raw T20 outfit did at SuperSport Park.

The calming infusion of Messrs Smith, Amla, Steyn and hopefully a fit Morkel should at least ensure that much ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

HAVE YOUR SAY: How worried are you about the Proteas T20 form? Does T20 cricket even count in your book? Send your thoughts to Sport24.

Read more on:    proteas  |  pakistan in sa  |  rob houwing  |  cricket
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