Cape Town – The Proteas are suddenly staring first-time
ignominy in the face: possible surrender of two bilateral one-day international
series on home turf in the same summer.
That will become a reality if they lose the decisive fifth
ODI against Pakistan at Willowmoore Park in Benoni on Sunday (10:00) -- for a
3-2 outcome in the tourists’ favour -- bearing in mind New Zealand’s 2-1 upset
triumph on our soil earlier in 2012/13.
The Pakistanis may claim with some justification, following
their tight but ultimately deserved three-wicket victory in Durban on Thursday,
that momentum lies with them for the all-important closing fixture,
particularly as South Africa have injury clouds for it around seasoned troopers
Dale Steyn and Graeme Smith.
VIDEO: South Africa v Pakistan: 4th ODI Highlights
Best retort from AB de Villiers and company would be to recreate
the sort of genuine “team” performance that marked their crushing 125-run win
in Bloemfontein in the first game of the series, easily their most brutal and
clinical effort of the combat thus far.
Since then they have
generally played like a confusing combination of a Lamborghini and a smoky
diesel tractor, combining fits of individual genius with worrying spells where
they go ragged as a collective and only confirm that they are currently
fielding several players on training wheels.
In the welcome, dazzling public-holiday sunshine of
Kingsmead, South Africa’s fatally below par total of 234 for nine after opting
for first strike on a dry pitch was really only given some respectability by a
partnership of virtually half those runs between form batsman De Villiers and
home-town customer David Miller.
For the last-named player, his ODI career-best 67, after
taking to the crease for the start of only the 10th over and at 38
for four, could at least be said to have represented personal manna from
In the past two or three seasons, the left-handed Miller has
mostly found it hard to produce for the Proteas, in either of the two
limited-overs formats, the kind of exciting, clean hitting that first earned
him maiden caps for his country aged 20.
Saddled with a reputation as a designated “finisher” above
all else, he hasn’t even been especially compelling or consistent at that, so
to add a slightly unexpected feather to his cap by helping rebuild an innings
that was threatening to slip to complete tatters, was a very pleasing
Miller had a life on only nine, when he offered up a pretty
straightforward catching chance that was grassed – is it just possible that the
incident marks a turnaround in his hitherto ho-hum tenure for the South African
A little earlier in the week, former Proteas seamer and
forthright television pundit Fanie de Villiers effectively said on his “BVP”
Afrikaans programme that he couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about
when it comes to the Pietermaritzburg-born batsman, suggesting simultaneously
that he would rather see precocious talent Quinton de Kock in the team despite
his budding reputation being based more on top-order achievements for the Lions
So for the moment, Miller is keeping some wolves from his
own door – he also fielded outstandingly at Kingsmead, taking a sharp catch and
engineering the run-out of Wahab Riaz to give South Africa a brief sniff near
And there is a very real chance of De Kock getting a Benoni
call-up anyway as Hashim Amla’s opening partner, because Smith has had a
flare-up of an old ankle problem and is deemed a very doubtful starter.
The latter had not been having the best of series even
before his setback, having registered a highest score of 30 in four innings
against the Pakistanis, although the situation at Willowmoore Park would be tailor-made
for his experience and renowned rearguard-action qualities to come to the fore.
If Smith cannot play, the Proteas’ batting line-up will look
more and more like a SA ‘A’ sort of combo in character, bearing in mind that –
even if Amla and De Villiers remain massively reassuring presences – they are
already lacking all of Jacques Kallis, JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis.
All of the absent trio also offer bowling strings to their
bows, which will greatly improve the balance of the South African team, it must
be remembered, when the Champions Trophy comes along in England in mid-year.
As it is presently shaped, the side really only offers five
bowlers who can be called specialists at the trade, which badly limits the
options for captain De Villiers: in Durban, he called on Colin Ingram’s dubious
part-time fare for an ill-fated single over that haemorrhaged 17 runs.
That decision was influenced by pace spearhead Steyn being
troubled by a seemingly whiplash-created head, neck and shoulder injury, linked
to a brave but awkward dive and landing for a caught-and-bowled attempt.
The Phalaborwa Express otherwise did a sterling job on the
day, returning his most economical figures yet (10-3-26-1) for a full 10-over
quota, in his 71st ODI.
So Steyn getting a green light for Benoni could be an
important development, even if the just-about-ready-again Morne Morkel is an
attractive option off the “bench” for the decider.
The Proteas have only lost one of seven ODIs at Willowmoore
Park, although they have never previously played Pakistan there and most of
their six wins have come against minnows like Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Kenya.
From a Pakistani perspective, if their captain Misbah-ul-Haq
could enthuse after the Kingsmead triumph that it “felt like playing in Lahore”
for volume of support for his team, he may have cause to expect it to some
extent again at Benoni, home to a fairly large Muslim community ...
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