Proteas: Their structural sickness

2016-06-12 16:32
Wayne Parnell (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – The Proteas stubbornly fail to see the error of their ways, it seems, in terms of the balance of their one-day international side.

It has been too apparent for months that they are short of both resilience and firepower from smack in the middle of their batting order downwards, and it proved seriously costly once again on Saturday as they effectively rounded off a wretched weekend for South African sport with a good old-fashioned “choke” – sorry, it really was one of those -- against Australia in St Kitts.

This was a match in the triangular series they had made very impressive strides toward winning, and instead of stamping their authority at the top of the mini-table, they are suddenly the side arguably  looking likeliest not to make the final at their halfway point of round-robin clashes.

With just one win from three outings, it may serve AB de Villiers and company best for the now-leading Aussies to beat West Indies (currently one point behind SA with a game in hand) on Monday at the same venue before targeting a win against the Caribbean outfit themselves on Wednesday, ahead of the last leg of matches, all in Barbados.

But the Proteas will be kicking themselves after having their great rivals by the short and curlies for generous portions of Saturday’s tussle before crashing by 36 runs in pursuit of 289.

First they did an excellent, composed job in the field, after David Warner’s authoritative century from the top of the Australian order, to keep their opponents’ total to well within the 300-run mark on a good batting deck.

Then there were several times during the reply when a comfortable SA win, frankly, looked well on the cards as almost everyone in their steely top five on paper made a fluent bid to tee up a favourable outcome – even if you could protest that it needed at least of them to go well beyond a best effort of 63 (the returning Faf du Plessis) and ideally be there at or very near the finish.

The Proteas were 140 for one at a healthy rate of knots at one point, and later 177 for two at the start of the 32nd over … so three times out of four, you would expect a team with at least a moderately good middle- to lower-order to get over the line from there even with most heavyweight batting specialists back in the hut.

Quite simply, though, South Africa don’t have that acceptably adhesive level of batting from No 6 down (the berth where Farhaan Behardien, who seems to make a living out of flirting with the axe but usually avoiding it, returned to under-delivering ways after his vitally intelligent innings against the very same Australians in Guyana).

Most of the other stronger nations in the 50-overs landscape are also considerably better served statistically with the willow in the often key “finishing” areas of Nos 7 and 8 than the Proteas are through Wayne Parnell – he has some crease talent, but sadly just not the ODI figures to back up that theory – and Kyle Abbott.

This was the second game in three where the SA bottom-end batting has bombed rather abjectly, following the spectacular collapse to the wiles of Sunil Narine and company in the first game at Providence Stadium.

It is one thing to say that the cream of the Proteas’ batsmen need to overwhelmingly do the job, but by their very nature ODIs are a game of risks – far more so than at Test level – and it naïve to think top orders will consistently come off in a major way.

With this SA team, it is a cold fact that if the enemy attack nips out two or three frontline batsmen fairly quickly, they instantly smell blood because they are all too aware that a fearfully long tail is about to be summoned to duty.

Look at it this way: Australia had a proper all-rounder at No 8 on Saturday, in the shape of James Faulkner (874 ODI runs at 39.72). South Africa, with due respect to his bowling abilities, had Abbott (76 ODI runs at 9.50).

The present Proteas line-up has a main batting division brimful of ability to about No 5 – but then it tapers off extremely violently, and we keep getting costly confirmation of that.

Remembering that this is broadly a batman’s game anyway, and even specialist bowlers can take awful ODI poundings without necessarily deserving them at times, it seems as clear as crystal that SA are going to have to compromise on out-and-out bowling depth to somehow make provision for a steelier batting presence in the two or three slots immediately below five in their team.

It isn’t easy with the limited on-tour squad resources at their disposal, but a start might be to play both Parnell and Chris Morris (he has had a niggle or two, though) in the next game against the Windies, ensuring a slightly trimmed tail, or to work the batsman who has just arrived as replacement for Rilee Rossouw, Dean Elgar, into the XI.

Elgar is a gritty little cricketing package, and barmier things have happened than, for example, to get him to share a “fifth bowler” quota with JP Duminy – a little improved on that front on Saturday – and possibly Behardien.

That elongated tail? It has got to be sorted; it is the team’s major Achilles’ heel.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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