Cape Town – Both South Africa and Australia
should take heart from the fact that their competitive KFC Twenty20
international mini-series will be decided in Wednesday’s final encounter.
The Proteas came within a whisker of
rendering the third clash at PPC Newlands a dead-rubber affair, but with
bigger-picture needs in mind it is probably perfect for both nations that the
score-line stands 1-1 after Australia’s gutsy last-ball victory in a
high-scoring Wanderers heart-stopper on Sunday.
A “final” between the two age-old rivals,
with all the educative mental examinations it will offer, seems ideal
considering the imminent staging of the ICC World Twenty20 in India – it is
unlikely that either country will now enter it soft or complacent in any
Being squeezed out in the Bullring
cliff-hanger, with both sides getting beyond the 200-mark at the crease,
snapped a five-game winning streak by Faf du Plessis’s troops and served up a
reminder that perfection is an elusive beast in the volatile format and fresh
little spells of fine-tuning and introspection are inevitable and often
After all, South Africa have often enough
in the past entered major ICC limited-overs tournaments as a riotously in-form
“machine” and highly touted, only for that burden to prove too much when it
mattered the most.
Just imagine if they had clean-swept the
Aussies in the current series, and thus gone to the Subcontinent bash boasting
a seriously impressive sequence of seven wins on the trot – they would hardly
have been able to sneak in beneath the radar, something they have tended to
prefer in global events in recent years.
Whether they win or lose the Australian
bilateral series from here, Sunday threw up several issues that will require
some degree of soul-searching by the SA brains trust – including in the key area
of selection of the best possible XI from their squad.
The fickle nature of T20 cricket was
highlighted anew in the case of all-rounder David Wiese who, only on Friday in
Durban, had registered his own best analysis for a completed bowling spell in
internationals – 4-0-16-2 on a pretty slow, more gripping Kingsmead surface
that firmly suited his broad array of styles and strategies.
But we veered from chalk to cheese, if you
like, at the Wanderers less than two days later, where the strip was truer,
harder and with better “come-on” to the willow and left his medium-pacers
rather more vulnerable to targeted attack.
Poor Wiese suddenly found himself on the
receiving end, by contrast, of his worst four-over concession from 16
appearances for the Proteas: a costly 58 runs, which also left him the 11th
most expensive bowler in history from a full complement of overs.
Perhaps it was a reminder – and I am not
automatically stating Wiese should not have played -- that a match-day side
should never be cast in stone and that it can be valuable to examine specific
conditions (even in India, pitches can vary to a surprising extent) from game
to game before making the team make-up call.
You do get the feeling from media
sound-bites recently that Du Plessis and company feel they “know the best XI”
... but do they really? Shouldn’t there be a wee bit more allowance for
flexibility and a horses-for-courses approach?
I believe I am not alone, for example, in
feeling more than a little baffled that the Proteas seem to think it is
unnecessary or inappropriate to field all of Hashim Amla (rested for each of
the first two clashes with the Aussies), AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock and
captain Du Plessis among their top four, and instead narrow the choice to three
All of the quartet have richly proven
credentials to justify inclusion, regardless of the specific order in which
they may take guard, and the possibility of not playing Amla regularly -- or at
all -- in Indian conditions just seems a bit too much like getting to the cycle
tour start line without a bike.
As it turned out on Sunday, South Africa
quirkily (some might choose a different word) went in with both of their
batting-leaning “partial all-rounders” in JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien –
neither in good form or oozing with confidence, and with all too obvious, deep
reservations about their deployment as bowlers right now.
On a day when Wiese certainly wasn’t the
only Proteas bowler to be ingloriously on the receiving end of the record
Australian alliance for any wicket of 161 by David Warner and Glenn Maxwell,
the skipper still not having the willingness to engage either for an over or
two spoke volumes. Didn’t it?
Still, it isn’t as though the Proteas have
suddenly unravelled in a big way – far from it.
Just some of the positive developments to
bank in a desperately narrow setback were the continued bright form with the
blade of Du Plessis (he eclipsed both Warner and Maxwell for strike rate in his
innings of 79), the very credible comeback effort after a long absence of Dale
Steyn, and Kagiso Rabada’s massively swelling reputation as a cool, skilful and
timber-rattling customer even under immense pressure.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing