Cape Town – South Africa surrendered their first bilateral
one-day international series in eight on Saturday … an event hardly ideal
considering that their first ICC Champions Trophy match comes exactly a week
The Proteas almost inexplicably failed to get across the
line after excellent set-up work that preceded the dramatic last over and a
half against England at Southampton’s Rose Bowl, eventually falling short by an
agonising two runs to go 2-0 down with one match to play at Lord’s on Monday.
With two very much “in”, renowned sluggers at the crease –
David Miller and Chris Morris - and 10 runs required off 10 deliveries, the
odds enormously favoured the visitors at that point to level the series.
Instead a combination of an overly frantic approach (that
was much-decorated Mark Boucher’s suggestion in his SuperSport punditry role)
by the pair, who had done so much right beforehand, and high-quality,
cool-headed death bowling from skiddy speedster Mark Wood, in particular,
thwarted their bid.
The outcome only added fuel to the already generous school
of global thought that South Africa are prime candidates to wilt in pressure
situations – yes, that ‘c’ word enters play – and it was quite obviously an
unwanted development for them as they zone in on the Champions Trophy.
Game one for the Proteas is against Sri Lanka at The Oval
next Saturday (11:30 SA time).
Before that, there is the opportunity to stiffen their act
appreciably, after two unusually broadly rag-tag performances on the trot, in
the final encounter with the ominously sturdy-looking English outfit at the
hallowed London venue.
Losing captain AB de Villiers wasn’t just spouting a cliché
when he noted that there was “still a lot to play for” at Lord’s … he is right.
The Proteas did improve markedly from Headingley in at least
one area, the collective batting showing, in the second ODI and if they can
vastly remedy or eliminate altogether the unpalatable woes in the field (both
catching and bowling) enough to win the consolation clash, there will be a
semblance of renewed hope for a competitive Champs Trophy.
Right now their once-legendary fielding prowess is in
perplexing near-tatters, a factor that contributed hugely to the Rose Bowl
reverse where century-maker and man-of-the-match Ben Stokes profited zealously
from being dropped (by Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock respectively) off both
of the first two balls he faced from luckless debutant left-arm spinner Keshav
Such gigantically expensive lapses – there were others, too
– could prove fatal in the compressed, strength-versus-strength ICC event.
But South Africa are under scrutiny also for their spirited
policy (in fairness it worked an awful lot last summer) of strongly favouring
bowlers who can hold a bat, at the cost of others who could be branded much
more “specialist” with the ball.
Several all-rounders, the majority of them pretty unused to
English conditions, form part of the Proteas’ arsenal and a tweak on that front
may be necessary after home batsmen prospered all too easily at times in Leeds
One critic who certainly feels South Africa are short of
true breakthrough clout with the ball is Sky commentator and former England
captain Nasser Hussain.
As Eoin Morgan and company blasted the host nation to yet
another ODI total well in excess of 300, Hussain said: “You need your strike
bowlers; you need to get wickets in modern (one-day internationals).
“In my day some of these South African all-rounders would
have been branded bits and pieces players. The days of pure containing have
gone; 10 overs nought for 40 … gone! It’s about wickets.”
Hussain said he was puzzled that vastly experienced paceman
Morne Morkel, 32, had sat out both of the first two clashes: “Morkel seems a
rhythm bowler … is playing (him) at Lord’s only the answer when the Champions
Trophy is (immediately ahead)?”
One bit of appeasement for the fan club of 108-cap Morkel is
that De Villiers confirmed even as early as Saturday’s toss that the beanpole
fast bowler would get an outing in Monday’s match.
He looks more and more like the sort of missing link the
Proteas could do with in a hurry …
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing