Cape Town – Will one of the rival one-day international captains
finally come to the party?
That could be a key factor in determining whether South
Africa come from behind at Trent Bridge on Wednesday (15:00 start, SA time) to
share the series or England convincingly take it 3-1 from a 0-1 start.
A feature of the combat thus far has been the failure of
both skippers, the Proteas’ AB de Villiers and the home team’s Alastair Cook,
to really get stuck in with the blade.
The left-handed Cook, at the top of England’s order, has had
a notably worse time of it statistically, with respective scores of 10 not out
(in the quickly-abandoned first ODI at Cardiff), 0, 20 and 2.
De Villiers, at least, has had a start in each of his three
knocks in the series, but as evidenced by scores of 39, 28 and 28 again, has
unusually not pressed on to at least one truly beefy contribution.
Either of the two players, whose abilities are hardly in
question, setting that right in the decisive day/nighter at Nottingham –
expected to be played in pleasant, mild conditions, especially for the team
batting first – could be very influential to the outcome.
Both have even greater weight of responsibility than usual: Cook
is a particularly experienced customer in an England side now lacking both
South African-born prior batting stalwarts in controversial Kevin Pietersen and
Jonathan Trott (the latter struck on a hand by Dale Steyn last time out and
inconveniently ruled out of the last ODI).
Meanwhile De Villiers, along with the consistently in-form
Hashim Amla, will be relied upon for timely, major runs in a Proteas side minus
Jacques Kallis for this series and looking well less than convincing from the
middle order downward right now.
Certainly by ODI reputation he is the more dangerous batting
factor than rival leader Cook – he sports an average of 48.50 and strike rate
of 93 after 131 ODIs, compared to the latter’s 39.80 and 79 after 55
appearances (Cook went through a phase where he was pigeon-holed as a Test
De Villiers also
remains third, to Cook’s eighth, on the ICC rankings for ODI batsmen.
It is desperately seldom that De Villiers goes through an
entire ODI series without posting at least one half-century – for the record,
you have to go back 13 bilateral series to find that instance.
Even then, it occurred in a short, two-game home series
against minnows Kenya in late October and early November of 2008, when South
Africa won at a canter each time and major efforts off his bat were hardly
critical to the outcome.
Still, should De Villiers fall short of a significant
contribution again on Wednesday, some critics will just begin to crank up the
argument against his having the treble cares of captaincy, prime-slot batting
and wicketkeeping, won’t they?
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