‘Bench’ stays wonky for SA

2015-01-25 22:27
AB de Villiers (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – Ten players who pretty much pick themselves for the first XI. Another five who quite clearly don’t.

It may seem a slightly brutal way to put it, but mass disagreement is unlikely, I fancy, over that appraisal of the Proteas’ squad soon to travel to Australasia for the World Cup.

South Africa put a significant tally of their “reserve” players on display in the fourth one-day international against West Indies at St George’s Park on Sunday ... and perhaps significantly came a cropper for the first time in the series as some brazen late clubbing from Andre Russell in an exciting finish ruined any hope of a clean sweep.

Instead Caribbean tails will be up – after looking a dispirited and possibly even disunited crew at the front end of the series -- as they contemplate the final, day/night encounter at Centurion on Wednesday.

Frankly, considering the one-sidedness of proceedings early on, a possible 3-2 outcome in favour of the host nation from an imperious 3-0 situation would undo, at least on paper, much of the ruthless work done when the Proteas were at fuller strength and securing the rubber early.

It would also only heighten fears, already quite well-rooted, that AB de Villiers’s side desperately need all of their biggest guns fit and firing on keynote dates at the World Cup if they are to challenge for the elusive title.

They will be tested again on Wednesday: De Villiers himself confirmed after Sunday’s shock reverse that he will, indeed, take his own turn on the sidelines at his franchise home venue, although some comfort is Hashim Amla returning from a mini-break to lead the troops and exciting young Quinton de Kock probably also making his welcome comeback from injury.

They will be the expected first-choice opening pair at CWC 2015, so sneaking in one ODI ahead of the tournament as an alliance – though there are also still two warm-up games -- would be a beneficial development.

Once De Kock is nicely rehabilitated into the team, the Proteas will put out a top six at the global event that will be the envy of most (even if Australia and India might have alternative takes).

That was only emphasised on Sunday when David Miller, in a major personal development, batted quite beautifully for half the team’s runs and his maiden century in his 55th knock in the format.

He was a model of composure and good sense after the Proteas had tumbled to 32 for three -- having been inserted on a slow track with some swing and nip -- while occasionally breaking loose for some fine, measured and orthodox boundary strokes that fell out of the realm of his often expected “crash, bang, wallop” stuff.

Only once he had got the three-figure monkey off his back, and with the overs running out, did he resort to his famed aerial destructiveness as he raced to an unbeaten 130 – all of 45 runs more than his previous best score of 85 not out.

So valuable was he to the cause that the failure of the Proteas to get him on strike for all but the last delivery of the 50th over may well, in the final analysis, have proved influential to the outcome of the match.

Speaking of the Amla-De Kock firm, its imminent reconstitution is especially comforting because Rilee Rossouw is finding opening the batting largely a treacherous chore: his successive innings in the role are a peculiar 0, 0, 128, 7 and 4.

All that is presently consistent about him in a Proteas shirt is his worrisome inconsistency.

For the PE encounter, South Africa sensibly but bravely omitted three of their four senior bowlers – Vernon Philander, Imran Tahir and Dale Steyn, who boasted 22 wickets between them from the first three outings against the Windies.

It was necessary, with the World Cup in mind, that their re-jigged, largely second-string attack came under pressure and that is precisely what happened.

Alas, the more the heat rose, the more the Proteas seemed to become nervy and error-prone – something not always confined to their fringe bowlers, let it be said – and they did not help their cause one bit by leaking 22 extras, including seven wides and a no-ball by remaining senior figure Morne Morkel who ought to have set a better example.

In terms of the one deeply problematic area in the SA first team – the intended all-rounder of sorts in the No 7 berth – the jury stays out about exactly what the solution is.

Primary candidates Farhaan Behardien and Wayne Parnell had their moments on Sunday: the former again looked well less than imposing with the willow, but did deliver two important wickets with his niggling medium-pacers and decent seam presentation at times.

Parnell, meanwhile, got dismissed much deeper into the slog phase for the same score as Behardien (12, having faced one ball more at 17) and bowled with good gas and some ill-luck at times.

One box that he significantly ticked was his own 10th and final over being perhaps his best; he went agonisingly past the outside edge a few times.

The other “standby” seamer as things stand for the World Cup, Kyle Abbott, huffed and puffed fairly commendably at times ... but he is also struggling to blow houses down, as evidenced by figures of 0/62 from three balls short of a full quota.

Abbott delivers some absolute peaches, and came within a whisker of several lbws at St George’s Park, but it is a stark fact that despite tidy overall economy he has managed only five wickets from 10 ODI appearances at an average of 66. 

As I said, 10 certainties for South Africa, but then ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  cricket

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