Cape Town – Don’t let anybody try to persuade you otherwise
... a 2-2 share of the one-day international series spoils in England represented
a satisfying return for a South African side still showing experimental and certain
GALLERY: Proteas level the series
A strange old set of contests ended at Nottingham on
Wednesday, courtesy of the Proteas’ commendably easy seven-wicket triumph after
hitting an early pothole (er, make that three!) in their run chase, with the
hosts staying fractionally ahead of their main summer visitors on the ICC ODI
rankings -- yet AB de Villiers and company able to feel well pleased about
snapping a seven-series winning streak by England at home.
Each team won two matches, and quite comprehensively, with
Alastair Cook’s outfit dominating the middle phase but the series book-ended by
South Africa’s own big wins at the Rose Bowl and Trent Bridge.
While even multi-format tours tend to be shorter these days
than they used to be, any seasoned international will tell you that it is
pretty hard to genuinely “get up” for a limited-overs series after the hardest
yards have already been achieved in winning the primary, Test portion of the
mission and you are getting reasonably sick of the sight of foreign hotel rooms
and the like.
Secretly, I don’t believe you would have had too many
dissenters in the Proteas’ camp had you suggested immediately ahead of the
ODIs, under the circumstances, that they would end up level-pegging.
This represented a massive improvement on events in England
on the prior tour of 2008, when South Africa also edged the Test series but
then went into a hung-over, lamentably all-fall-down mode in the 50-overs
fixtures, where they were taken apart 4-0.
It does demonstrate how far they have come, under the
guidance of Gary Kirsten and his fellow coaches and mentors, as a more
consistently committed and cutting-edge set of cricketers.
Also to consider is that, despite their rare failure to
cross the line first in this particular series, the 2012 calendar year (now
freed of all matches in this format until 2013 clicks over) still apparently
goes down as England’s best ever in ODI win ratio terms. That is what South
Africa were up against.
To fully appreciate the Proteas’ achievement in thwarting
their latest conquest bid, you also needed to have watched at least some of
England’s last ODI series in June and July, when they smashed their oldest foes
Australia 4-0, three of them by large margins.
So yes, for all their lingering shortcomings in some areas,
South Africa got a good result – and the mind boggles as to how much better
they could potentially still become once certain unsettled links in their
team-composition chain are fully repaired.
The balance of the side at present remains less than
perfect, with niggling issues around who should staff some middle and
lower-middle order positions in the batting arsenal.
Wayne Parnell, for instance, failed to grasp an opportunity
to make an impression as high as No 7 although his bowling appears to be quite
nicely on the mend again; a series economy rate of below four runs to the over
was a pleasing personal outcome for someone prone to “leakage” even when he is
earning good wicket hauls.
Also on the bowling front, left-arm spinner Robin Peterson
only cemented his reputation as the Proteas’ most competent ODI slow bowler –
at the age of 33 he is arguably playing the best cricket of his life.
He was the leading wicket-taker across both sides with his
seven scalps at 21.71 and economy rate only a tad over four runs to the over,
and also confirmed his versatility as he is very comfortable sharing the new,
harder ball for variety’s sake with one of the faster men.
Peterson is developing a happy little habit of excelling
against England, in particular: remember his 3/22 in the 2011 World Cup at
Chennai, including ripping out now-retired Andrew Strauss and the stormy petrel
Kevin Pietersen in the opening over of the match?
Dale Steyn led the pace attack with aplomb in the decisive
Trent Bridge game, and speaking of senior players, the marvellous Hashim Amla
and a resurgent De Villiers provided what David Gower (no slouch as a stroke-player
in his time) described as “an absolute master-class” in their dramatically
game-turning unbroken alliance of 172 at virtually a run a ball on Wednesday
It might be argued that less experienced players like Faf du
Plessis and Dean Elgar didn’t do a great deal to advance their claims to
regular spots – the former really struggled for runs whilst Elgar clearly has
work to do to convince people that he will be able to provide an appropriate
strike rate at this level.
Mind you, the Welkom-born left-hander was occasionally
resilient enough in his maiden series to suggest he could grow into a more
meaningful future role.
Too much reliance on the incredible Amla? Maybe, but a
counter-argument could also be that we were simply seeing a classy batsman at
his pleasurable prime!
What also needs to be kept in mind is that the Proteas
rested both key performer Jacques Kallis and another seasoned all-rounder,
Albie Morkel, for the duration of this series.
Expect the “tinkering” to gradually ease off now as Kirsten
and his co-strategists target a fresh assault on the No 1 ranking next year,
probably with a clearer view of the squad’s strengths and weaknesses ...
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