Proteas: Old woes flare up

2014-11-14 16:11
Imran Tahir (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Much was justifiably made in the lead-up to Friday’s first ODI between Australia and South Africa in Perth of the Proteas’ hitherto excellent record at the legendary WACA Ground.

As it happened: Australia v South Africa, 1st ODI

It was rightly pointed out that they had only ever lost one international contest of any kind at the pace-friendly venue.

I remember the lone blemish game so well not just because I was there, but also as it was only a defeat to the Aussies (by 33 runs eventually) in game-specific terms.

The 2001/02 team under Shaun Pollock’s charge, by safely going past an unashamedly selfish secondary requirement (226) in their chase of 283 to secure presence in the VB Series triangular finals against New Zealand, eliminated the host nation on superior run rate regardless of the overall loss.

So it felt more like “job done” to the SA side anyway, as Australia suffered the rare indignity of being shoved out of their own tournament before the showpiece stage – and Pollock’s troops went on to claim the silverware after a wretched prior Test series Down Under.

It was a tumultuous WACA day for other reasons: it marked Steve Waugh’s rather acrimonious exit as Aussie limited-overs captain, and as I made a slightly belated, innocent appearance for the South African section of the post-match presser, Waugh quite literally brushed my shoulder on his angry stomp out of the home one as he let rip with an X-rated tirade: “This room is full of f***ing c***heads.”

I was not about to stick up my hand on a point of order against him, however I may have felt about his contention.

On Friday, Australia finally banked their first “genuine”, if you like, victory over their southern hemisphere arch-rivals at the ground, taking them 1-0 up in the five-match series and meaning the Proteas must win three of the next four if they are to take tidy bilateral bragging rights into the 2015 World Cup.

If there was again one grumpy camper in the Aussie dressing room this time, it would only have been luckless, increasingly injury-prone current captain Michael Clarke, who aggravated a hamstring problem and could face another significant layoff. 

The tourists produced a schizophrenic performance – most notably in the field, after putting the Aussies in and leaking exactly 300 runs – and most teams are unlikely to beat these particular opponents in one of their intimidating backyards under such circumstances.

In truth, the Proteas’ goose was cooked quite well before the defiant last-wicket pair of Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir cut the final deficit significantly to 32 runs, as they’d imploded from a promising 202 for four -- just before David Miller’s disappointing hole-out when beautifully set with 14 overs left - to 222 for nine when some happy Perth spectators would have headed for the gates or parking lot to make a fast getaway.

AB de Villiers’s side slipped up badly in one area you wouldn’t ordinarily expect them to wilt in: catching.

A veritable bagful of chances, both easy and difficult, were spilled and culprits were almost too many to mention individually – expect a fierce, urgent focus on this department ahead of Sunday’s follow-up fixture at the same venue.

Had South Africa managed to avoid more of these clangers, the Aussies would quite feasibly have been restricted to 250 runs or perhaps even fewer ... and a different result may well have been registered.

But the aggressive, hungry hosts, who richly deserved this win in the final analysis, would certainly have taken additional heart for the remaining contests from certain enduring other weaknesses in the Proteas ranks.

One was the “death” phase of the Australian innings, when they clouted 104 runs in the final 10 overs and did some fairly grievous harm to the figures of the likes of Dale Steyn (impressive initially) and the glaringly out-of-form Ryan McLaren – the latter may be lucky to get a gig in game two of the WACA double-header.

The situation now cries out for Kyle Abbott, suitably strangling in his closing stints in a couple of the Twenty20 internationals, to find a return berth in the ODI side.

Another unwanted but increasingly worrisome phenomenon was South Africa encountering batting angst in the lower-middle order, which all too quickly nipped in the bud the menacing advances that had been made by De Villiers and Miller in an authoritative fifth-wicket stand of 126.

You almost expect a big score out of De Villiers every time, and in smashing 80 he became the fastest batsman in history to 7 000 ODI runs.

It was his 166th innings, eclipsing the 174 needed by India’s Sourav Ganguly, the previous record-holder who had set the mark in the slightly unlikely setting - at least for him - of Paarl against Kenya.

Miller getting 65 at No 6 was an overdue mercy, but quite what the Proteas do to stiffen the batting from around seven down, without harming bowling efficiencies too mortally, is a mystery wrapped in a riddle and boxed in a conundrum.

How about you try?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  rob houwing  |  cricket

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