Cricket World Cup 2011

SA orgy ... just no Proteas

2011-02-22 20:48
Ryan ten Doeschate (AP)





Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – The top three knocks in a high-scoring World Cup match at Nagpur on Tuesday belonged to men born in Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg and Cape Town respectively.

And yet there was not a trademark green Proteas shirt in sight – instead England narrowly staved off humiliation at the hands of part-timers the Netherlands in a Group B encounter by six wickets with eight balls to spare.

First Ryan ten Doeschate, born in the Friendly City 30 years ago, bludgeoned 119 for the unfancied men in orange, and then England captain Andrew Strauss, a relatively short-lived Highvelder once, caressed a cool-headed 88 and Jonathan Trott, a more recent England convert who had abandoned sunny life in the shadow of Table Mountain, cracked a typically even-paced 62 to spare superpower blushes in a challenging but ultimately successful chase.

Yet even if the South African national team would have been largely preoccupied with preparation for their own first appearance at the event against West Indies in Delhi on Thursday, this match did send out an unintentionally encouraging signal to them: that England, supposedly key rivals to the Proteas in the group for a place in the quarter-finals, are a long way off top-combat pace at present.

Let’s not take anything away from the admirable journeyman Ten Doeschate: we have known for a good while that he is the keynote Dutch player, and a trooper with excellent county credentials for Essex.

Cricinfo makes the not inaccurate point that “by numbers alone, he is the best ODI all-rounder in the game”.

This was his 28th appearance for the Netherlands, although it must be stated that 24 of them have come against weaker, ICC Associate-level countries.

But even in four matches against top-tier powers, he hasn’t fared badly with the willow at all: there is a 39 against Sri Lanka at Amstelveen (2006), 57 against South Africa, no less, at Basseterre in the previous World Cup in 2007, 1 against Australia at the same venue shortly afterwards, and now his career-best and fourth ODI century, against unsuspecting England.

People familiar with the club scene in the Western Cape will know that whenever Ten Doeschate has fine-tuned his northern hemisphere game with some off-season action in the local Premier League, he has tended to do so with distinction.

And there was also a time a couple of years ago when then-Cobras coach Shukri Conrad audaciously tried to snap him up for a few franchise limited-overs matches, before being knocked back by Cricket South Africa on the grounds that the son of Eastern Cape soil was actually an “overseas” player.

Good on Ten Doeschate for his beefy contribution - including with his tidy medium-pacers - to a World Cup minnow cause at a time when many critics are questioning their fairly swollen presence at the tournament.

No doubt the Proteas camp would have been quietly, or even not so quietly, willing the Dutch to get across the tape, because shock defeat for England in their first match would also have significantly enhanced - even at this very early stage - South Africa’s chances of finishing among the necessary top quartet in the group.

Graeme Smith and company are unlikely now to be complacent in any way when they encounter the workmanlike (but regrettably bowling-lean) Netherlands at Mohali on March 3, three days before they meet England at Chennai.

They will, of course, regard Ten Doeschate as something of a prize scalp if they can snare him early and expose the proverbial underbelly.

And they will also feel, based on Tuesday’s evidence, that England are potentially ripe for the plucking by them, in what would serve as revenge for that nation beating them 2-1 in ODIs in South Africa two seasons ago and also eliminating them from the Champions Trophy.

Considering the crazily packed global schedule, ODI teams peak and slump at different times – few manage to steer a calm and assured course for a long time – and Strauss’s men do appear to be horribly jaded (albeit more mentally than physically) after their arduous summer in Australia.

The rest period for their various men who carry the country’s fortunes in both Tests and ODIs ahead of the World Cup has been unenviably brief, and the hectic Subcontinent during a World Cup is hardly the ideal place to clear the mind, you would think.

Their best hope, perhaps, is that they can somehow refresh themselves during the sometimes lengthy breaks between group-stage matches; certainly they need to in a hurry.

Even the Ashes-winning captain, Strauss, looked strategically stale (though his batting was fluent enough for a while) in England’s decidedly ropey 50 overs in the field, and hardly led from the front as a fielder, either.

He was also indirectly pilloried by Ian Botham from the commentary box when the legendary all-rounder spoke of England’s “terrible use of the review system”.

How humiliating, too, for the new-ball pair of James Anderson, in particular, and Stuart Broad to leak 137 runs between them from maximum stints against the rank underdogs – it wasn’t just Ten Doeschate giving them something to think about.

England just seem so “spent” at present that a title-challenging upturn during the World Cup is unlikely.

On their side, I suppose, is the expansive length of the tournament and the possibility that they might discover some zest at the business end ...

 

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