Cape Town – Considering how long once-mighty Caribbean
cricket has been in the doldrums for, perhaps it is futile to believe the
“real” West Indies will stand up against South Africa in Port Elizabeth on
Sunday (10:00 start).
We knew the gulf between the one-day international sides was
acute even before hostilities began; the Proteas’ big wins in all of the first
three games in the five-match series have only underlined that.
Perhaps some of the Windies’ players who have seen service
throughout the broader summer tour are suffering from the
one-foot-on-the-plane-home syndrome ... and if they are, that isn’t a great
sign considering that the visit ends with the fifth ODI at Centurion on
Wednesday (January 28) yet they are back in action with their first warm-up
game for the six-week Australasian-staged World Cup as quickly as February 9.
So it really would be better for their collective wellbeing
if they could somehow muster sufficient competitive juices to give a
much-altered SA side a proper go in the dead rubbers at St George’s Park and
then SuperSport Park and at least feel they have turned some kind of corner.
As things stand, the series statistics after the first trio
of ODIs embarrassingly sum up just how one-sided things have been.
On the batting front, South Africa have racked up three
centuries – one each to Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Rilee Rossouw – and an
additional five half-centuries. The West Indies’ tally? One paltry fifty each
for Dwayne Smith and Denesh Ramdin.
All of Amla (280 in three knocks and one dismissal, meaning
he averages that figure, too), De Villiers (230) and Rossouw (135) have gone
well beyond 100 series runs: the visitors’ top accumulator, Smith, sports a
hugely more modest 98 across three knocks at an average of 32.66.
The top three wicket-takers are all South African: eight
each for Imran Tahir (average 14.75, economy 4.98) and Vernon Philander
(average 17.50, economy 5.83), and six for Dale Steyn, the spearhead who will
now be rested for the remainder of the series to cotton-wool him safely for CWC
Best the West Indies can offer is three scalps apiece for
seamers Andre Russell and Jerome Taylor, although their averages make for
humdrum reading at 48.00 and 57.66 respectively.
The Proteas squad won’t need to read the stats to know the
extent of the stranglehold they possess, and it is no tribute to the hitherto
lethargic Caribbean side that Sunday’s game in the Friendly City may well be a
tad closer – er, any takers for an away win? – simply because South Africa are
likely to artificially restructure their battle-plan on the day to ensure that
reasonably dormant personnel thus far are thrust closer to the frontline of
For the Proteas, this has really become rather more like a
World Cup warm-up fixture of their own, although the official ones come against
Sri Lanka (February 9) and co-hosts New Zealand (February 11), both at Hagley
Oval in Christchurch.
Despite the already-stated extent to which they will tinker
with their XI to ensure some undercooked players get a run, the host nation
ought still to go in with a balanced and strong enough line-up to keep
clean-sweep possibilities very much alive.
If sections of the local public may be a little miffed that
superstar surnames like Amla and Steyn will definitely be absent, they can
comfort themselves that captain De Villiers, whirlwind figure at the Wanderers
exactly a week previously, is very much in the mix at St George’s Park.
There could be a sole home-town infusion, too, if
lower-order all-rounder Wayne Parnell makes the cut for this fixture, as is anticipated.
Warriors stalwart Parnell is one of the fringe SA players
whose selection for the World Cup raised eyebrows in some quarters, so an
influential personal performance at a venue he knows so well would stave off
the dissenters to some extent.
In 43 one-day internationals so far, Parnell has only turned
out in the city of his birth twice, and the last time in 2009.
For their latest victory in the tri-series also involving
England and India, Australia rung the changes against the English in Hobart on
Friday, bringing in peripheral elements like Moises Henriques and Shaun Marsh
who aren’t even in their CWC 15.
Both made fulsome contributions, nevertheless, as the
Aussies triumphed by three wickets and qualified – early – for the tournament
Certain Proteas staffers who don’t always hog international
headlines doing likewise in Port Elizabeth would be a treat for the brains
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