Cape Town – Relatively “normal service”
from the Proteas’ frontline batsmen, in cherished local conditions, ought to be
enough to tilt the balance of the one-day international series against England
beginning in Bloemfontein on Wednesday (13:30).
They say the ODI landscape is a batsman’s
game ... and there is little reason to suspect any notable departure from that
theory over the course of what shape up as five potentially enthralling,
closely-fought and high-scoring encounters.
Part of that anticipated closeness may well
be down to the suspicion – at least in this writer’s mind -- that England’s
bowling attack looks slightly better geared as things stand to exercise the
necessary levels of discipline and control.
The Proteas, still struggling to put their
optimal seam attack onto the park as was the case in the prior Test series defeat,
won’t necessarily be able to keep a tighter lid on things through the belated
introduction to their squad of men like the tearaway Marchant de Lange or lanky
all-rounder David Wiese; the latter tends to be more effective with his
mix-it-up medium-pacers in the Twenty20 than 50-overs environment.
But then again, what guarantees are there
in this format, with stroke-playing innovation and unorthodoxy at such
extraordinarily advanced levels, that finding the correct lines and lengths are
going to be accompanied by due reward in the wickets or economy column anyway?
Sometimes there is just no place to hide
for even the most willing, intelligent and durable of bowlers in one-day
internationals and things can simply unravel even with them largely blameless in
execution of their trade.
Signs point to pretty heavy scoring across
the board in this series ... but at least from a statistical point of view, South
Africa should collectively be in a position to go that crucial little bit
“heavier” if their frontline customers at the crease deliver to par
expectations or thereabouts.
The Proteas boast four of the present top
10-ranked batsmen on the ODI global ladder, with captain AB de Villiers still
the pick of the pile, Hashim Amla in third and Faf du Plessis and Quinton de
De Villiers’s most compelling offensive
instincts come cascading to the fore in ODIs, where he is holder of the record
for fastest century ever – that meteoric 31-ball effort against West Indies at
the Wanderers last season.
You wonder just when a performance like
that will possibly be bettered -- even if by saying that Murphy’s Law will
probably go and make it happen within the next week or so.
Disregard, I believe, those three ducks in
a row at the back end of the Test series against England: De Villiers will
relish the change in format to the more gung-ho arena, where he is also significantly
more settled as an international captain.
His last ODI produced him a century (119)
at Mumbai, as the Proteas registered a famous 3-2 triumph in India, for those
who may have forgotten.
Although this shouldn’t spark any thoughts
that they will be vulnerable in batting – not by a long shot -- the best slots
England can offer on the world rankings are Joe Root in 17th and Jos
Buttler at 19th.
Unlike, say, De Villiers and Amla, whose
respective Test and ODI batting records are impressively close together, the
gifted Root still flourishes far more in the five-day code (where he averages
54.93) than in ODIs where he is a fair way behind on 41.90.
Then again, the 25-year-old was
marvellously consistent during the Test series triumph, making at least one
significant score at each of the four SA venues, so he will be feeling good
about himself ahead of the latest tussles in the more abbreviated format.
He has just one prior ODI cap – among his
63 appearances – against the Proteas, and notched 48 on that occasion as
England won the ICC Champions Trophy semi-final at The Oval in mid-2013.
As much as I tip South Africa to pip the
English in this series, a major factor in things potentially going the other
way is a certain Ben Stokes, far and away the most fully-fledged all-rounder on
display across either outfit over the next couple of weeks.
The well-merited player of the series in
the Test portion, like Root, has not yet shown his finest mettle in 50-overs
play, which could surprise many who witnessed his 258-run carnage at Newlands
in the signature New Year Test.
From 34 ODIs thus far, the flame-haired
Durham man has mustered only 544 runs at a less-than-scary average of 20, and
32 wickets at 34.25.
Has he filled his boots for the South
African summer, or is his hunger not yet wholly satisfied?
If it proves to be the latter, just allow
me to tweak my series prediction, if you please ...
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing