Proteas must lift standards

2010-10-11 12:29
Johan Botha (File)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town - Expected 2-0 winners of the Standard Bank Pro20 internationals against Zimbabwe they may have been, but South Africa’s reputation for starting seasons or specific series in stuttering fashion continues.

GALLERY: Proteas v Zimbabwe, second Twenty20

A longer off-season than they are accustomed to these days may have had something to do with it – and that rest may pay nice dividends a bit further down the line – but the fact remains that several boxes earned either hesitant ticks or even outright crosses against the neighbouring minnows.

The stakes have been slightly raised, as a result, for the conventional three-match ODI series which now takes over, starting with a day/night encounter in Bloemfontein on Friday.

There is a certain amount of unintentional disarray in the Proteas camp at present, given that various senior players have been nursing niggles or gradually “rehabbing” from injuries, and a new one worryingly entered the picture when lanky paceman Morne Morkel went over his ankle in the first encounter on Friday.

The T20 squad had a pretty raw look about it, and that was arguably reflected in the struggle to put away the tenacious Zimbabweans more convincingly – especially in Sunday’s eight-run close shave at Kimberley, where two-thirds of the way through their chase the visitors looked ominously likely to pull off a major upset.

Ironically, as things stand, the Proteas are now due to sideline Rusty Theron, the seamer who kept a commendably cool head to thwart the Zimbabwean bid in the last over after slightly more experienced – at this level, anyway -- Wayne Parnell had bowled a glaringly unflattering penultimate one.

Parnell, remember, is only 21 himself and some cobwebs are understandable in his case as he was returning from a significant injury layoff.

The left-armer went for 70 runs in his two stints of four overs each during the Twenty20 mini-series, which rather summed up the erratic nature of the South African attack in both outings.

Zimbabwe notched up a surprisingly swollen 354 runs from 40 completed overs of batting at Bloemfontein and Kimberley, at a rate far too close to nine to the over. Given more “A-grade” opposition and the Proteas might well have been in serious trouble, despite their own far more satisfactory showing with the blade than in the field.

As things stand, Theron, Loots Bosman, Heino Kuhn and Ryan McLaren drop out for the change of code to ODIs, with the welcome infusion of such players as Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Jacques Kallis, Charl Langeveldt and Dale Steyn giving the national side a harder, more street-wise edge once more.

But sources in the camp indicated to Sport24 on Monday that Kallis and Steyn are unlikely to see action quite yet, although De Villiers is just about ready and Morkel’s ankle is also very much improved.

At least the Proteas have hit the ground running from a batting point of view, even given the obvious limitations of the Zimbabwe attack – definitely their Achilles Heel at present – and the extremely favourable surfaces and outfields the T20 games were played on.

JP Duminy re-announced himself with great aplomb after many months in a general trough, his exhilarating 96 not out on Sunday creating a new South African international record in this format, and his series tally of 131 runs coming without dismissal and at a searing strike rate of 172.

One small tempering fact was that his off-spin suddenly looked notably sub-standard; he was caned for 40 runs in three overs across the two fixtures.

Duminy’s ability to provide four or five highly credible overs when necessary in the fine ODI series triumphs against Australia two seasons back was a precious asset and it must not be allowed to slip off the radar.

It was also a decent batting start to the summer for Graeme Smith, who now takes back the leadership from Johan Botha for the ODIs, while young David Miller’s development gathers pleasing pace.

The sooner the Proteas have Dale Steyn back firing the better: his genuine pace is a key asset, while Morkel’s chin-tickling bounce is important too.

As evidenced with someone like Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who nevertheless has a commendable capacity for learning and willingness to experiment, South Africa presently sports a few too many seamers who veer rather closer to “medium” than outright fast, which means there is only so much mixing-up you can do in pace and length variation in the limited-overs environment.

Get it even marginally wrong and you may be belted right out of the precinct, as some Zimbabwean batsmen showed …

SA squad for ODIs, possibly subject to injury-enforced adjustment:
Graeme Smith (captain), Hashim Amla, Johan Botha, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Colin Ingram, Jacques Kallis, Charl Langeveldt, David Miller, Albie Morkel, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe

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