SA in Sri Lanka

Proteas' softness lamented

2013-07-20 20:45
AB de Villiers (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Defeat, in itself, being inevitable for even the mightiest of limited-overs sides at times, the manner of surrender is often a more pertinent talking point.

In that regard, South Africa’s grotesque 180-run setback in the first one-day international against Sri Lanka in Colombo on Saturday arguably raises special alarm bells.

This is supposed to be a team and squad in transition, but there are increasingly worrisome signals that that may be too polite a labelling.

To put it bluntly, South Africa continue to look an outfit a long way off the top of the ODI pecking order, and possibly actually headed primarily downward.

Kumar Sangakkara, whose passion for scoring runs against the Proteas in home conditions at both Test and ODI level only intensifies, walloped 169 runs alone: the visitors could only muster a flimsy 140 between the lot of them in their supposed “pursuit” of a 321 target.

The veteran left-hander, who began relatively slowly – albeit almost wholly untroubled – and then gathered destructive intensity like a Texan tornado (his last 91 runs came off a scorching 39 balls) duly swelled his ODI average in Sri Lanka to 77.71 against these foes, to go with a Test figure of 65.83.

Some cynics might say the chase was over after the first ball of the SA innings when Colin Ingram, hastily drafted back into the side as makeshift opener after Hashim Amla’s crippling withdrawal through neck spasms, was castled by a trademark Lasith Malinga yorker.

The rest of us were probably prepared to see a little more hope of resurrection, although when five wickets had fallen by the 17th over and the innings had been wrapped up in 31.4, that faith was proved largely unjustified anyway.

It was South Africa’s worst reverse to the Lankans, even though they are an already-known bogey side in their home environment, and the most unedifying of the Proteas’ losses in the AB de Villiers captaincy tenure – not to mention a rickety old start for new coach Russell Domingo and his reworked support staff.

There was little to pull from the wreckage, really ... a slightly scary thought when the second of the scheduled five contests takes place at the same venue as quickly as Tuesday.

With some luck, Amla will be deemed fit enough to restore much-needed stability and experience to the upper-order batting.

But there’s an awful lot of collective improving to do in the space of some 48 to 72 hours, even if “rustiness” is sure to be at least partially offered as a mitigating factor in the opening fiasco.

Just how much is it a credible excuse, though?

This tour has been on the roster for many months, and if there were going to be concerns about cobwebs considering that it comes smack in the middle of the domestic winter, was one warm-up fixture really the correct lead-up prescription?

A personal view is that trips out of South Africa at this time of the year should also feature at least one mandatory two-day “first-class” sort of fixture, giving the batsmen plenty of opportunity for time in the middle and bowlers to get enough overs beneath belts.

That way, it may be more possible to prevent the kind of embarrassing waywardness we all witnessed in the first two overs of the match, when Morne Morkel and Chris Morris were almost the equivalent of dart-throwers missing the board entirely and instead repeatedly piercing Granny Evelyn’s lovingly home-made couch cushions.

Hardly helped by Alviro Petersen putting down a straightforward chance to slip when Morkel actually did land one in vaguely the right area – a lapse that set the tone for another broadly erratic Proteas showing in the field – the Lankans were flying at 19/0 after those two overs comprising a generous 19 balls.

To be fair to the lanky Morkel, he got his act together quickly and near-splendidly: his full-stint analysis of 10-2-34-2 stood out as a beacon of great economy when weighed against any other ally in the attack.

Poor Morris had easily his worst of four ODIs to this juncture, leaking 80 runs in nine overs, and his day was summed up when he dropped the ball forward out of his hand once even as he began his run-up.

The Lions man also let a ball through his grasp for four when stationed on the fence, and produced two wild throws from the outfield that were blisteringly accurate only in the sense that they near-perfectly found the middle of the pitch, to have covering team-mates scrambling, rather than either set of stumps.

It will be interesting to gauge Morris’s response to this personal blip, assuming he earns a ticket to game two, because he is thought to possess more in the way of “BMT” than some other rookie members of the present squad.

On that note, former Test and ODI fast-medium bowler Craig Matthews, a character renowned once for his devotion to tight lines and lengths and also a national selector not too long ago, observed in the SuperSport studio after completion of the rout that the side seemed to show emotional brittleness.

“There was a softness in this performance today ... South African sides of old have usually been harder even when (not always winning).”

Problems do seem to be mounting rather than gradually dissipating, giving Domingo an early examination of his credentials.

The three-spinner formula didn’t look terribly threatening, with supposed main man Robin Peterson strangely bowling the fewest overs of a trio also comprising Aaron Phangiso (he at least stuck to his task quite acceptably) and JP Duminy.

Between them, the three travelled for 1/131 in 21 overs.

Nor is the batting being helped by the fact that an increasingly “senior” middle-order figure like Faf du Plessis, 29 years old and now sporting 38 caps, seems to be going rather dormant performance-wise – his average has dipped below the 30-mark.

Only whisper it, but this could be another unnerving couple of weeks for the Proteas.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  sa in sl  |  rob houwing  |  cricket

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