SA in New Zealand

Proteas can turn the screws

2012-02-23 12:18
AB de Villiers (Gallo)

Cape Town – Have New Zealand blown their only chance to claim a series victory over South Africa this summer?

Impartial analysts may well suspect that to be the case, after the Black Caps’ remarkable failure to close out the Twenty20 international series on Wednesday, when a dramatic twist in the last two overs of the deciding match at Auckland saw the spoils somehow swing the tourists’ way 2-1.

Generally speaking, the greatly more condensed environment of T20 cricket offers “smaller” nations a better prospect of upsetting a superpower, so the New Zealand team and their supporters must be infuriated at their failure to cross the line there.

And as the tour moves steadily into more extended formats – the three-match ODI series and then the Tests -- you would expect the superior depth and class of the Proteas to become progressively more apparent if they play to their known capabilities.

The backdrop to the first ODI, at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium on Saturday (03:00, SA time), tells you much about why AB de Villiers’s side ought to be pretty clear favourites, despite the Black Caps’ famous tenacity and “mongrel” likely to be as evident as always.

For one thing, South Africa are currently third on the rankings, and only a decimal margin behind India in second, whilst New Zealand lie a distant seventh.

They have two batsmen in the top five on the rankings (and even more pertinently Hashim Amla first and De Villiers second) to their hosts’ none, as well as a brace of bowlers in that terrain – Lonwabo Tsotsobe in second spot and Morne Morkel fourth.

It has to be a big comfort, too, that freshened-up, hugely senior national troops Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn and Graeme Smith now filter back into the mix and Faf du Plessis, too, perhaps gets a chance for revenge for the gloating World Cup quarter-final argy-bargy he was subjected to last year after he ran out key team-mate De Villiers at a critical stage of the tetchy encounter.

Mind you, the Proteas will also field several members of the T20 side who produced decidedly chequered cricket in the three-game series, and certainly be aware that their broad limited-overs game is far from a perfect product at present.

One glaring problem from the T20 series which may just return to cause some bother in the ODIs is the difficulty South Africa have in sustaining a healthy run-scoring tempo throughout their innings – in the T20s several frontline batsmen got a little too frantic and overly “clever” in shot selection on occasions and got out just when they looked set for genuinely meaningful knocks.

The 50-overs affairs ought to provide more of an opportunity for a measured, less hot-headed approach to accumulation.

I would argue that there remain issues around the depth of the batting line-up, with natural, consistent boundary-hitters in relatively short supply once you get past Albie Morkel in the No 7 position or thereabouts.

On the subject of Morkel, the big-hitting Titans all-rounder could be termed the designated “miracle worker” in the lower middle-order, and it is a difficult role to have considering that ... well, yes, risk-geared miracles simply don’t happen every day.

Not too many years ago, tail-end players of his six-striking ability came relatively dime-a-dozen in the Proteas team, which meant there wasn’t absurd pressure on any single man to do the job: if Shaun Pollock got out caught in the deep, for instance, there might still be a Klusener, Boje or Van der Wath to use the long handle in the closing overs.

Morkel’s critics – and there are some of them about – argue that he “doesn’t come off enough” for South Africa in one-day cricket, especially as he continues to prove an unconvincing link with the ball.

Their case has growing merit, perhaps, but a sober look at recent statistics also tells you that the left-hander often comes in with no more than two or three overs left, and sometimes does not get to the crease at all.

For instance, he could be said have failed only once in the just-completed T20 series: he got 13 not out off 12 balls in the only defeat at Wellington, did not bat in the Levi-fest at Hamilton, and was dismissed for 10 in a lone, pinch-hitting stab up the order on Wednesday.

Morkel also didn’t get to bat in his two previous T20 internationals, when South Africa beat Pakistan 2-0 in the United Arab Emirates in May 2010.

Similarly, two of his last three ODI innings were short-lived not outs in the home series against Sri Lanka.

And I am still adamant that the Proteas would be too dangerously short of bludgeoning X-factor in the bowels of their order if they didn’t field JA Morkel ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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