Cape Town – If danger signs can flicker against a relative
minnow, then perhaps South Africa would be wise to address their shortcomings
for the looming encounter with a co-superpower.
The risky lack of depth to their bowling resources was
highlighted once again as they made heavy weather of subduing gutsy neighbours
Zimbabwe in a World Cup Pool B opener for both sides at Hamilton on Sunday.
Senior player Dale Steyn sportingly tweeted (@DaleSteyn62)
afterwards: “Well played by our African neighbours ... tough buggers!”
In the end the Proteas prevailed by 62 runs, but there were
anxious moments along the way for them, first at the crease and then in the
It may be no bad thing: they have sometimes in the past been
guilty of steaming along like a Japanese bullet train in early group play at
World Cups, only to subside when it is most inopportune toward the business
At least they will be well aware there are areas to brush up
on significantly for next Sunday’s meeting with the more heavyweight India at
Melbourne Cricket Ground (05:30 SA time).
The batting wobble is arguably of much less concern: it is
extremely rare these days for the “big two”, AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla, to
compile only 36 runs between them in a one-day international, and the very fact
that the Proteas could recover from the collective top-order peril of 83 for
four to total 339 without further loss is a sign of growing maturity and
composure in that department.
Those qualities were evident in abundance from respective
centurions David Miller and JP Duminy, who have got their personal tournaments
off with a deafening bang.
Their unbroken fifth-wicket stand of 256 in only 29.4 overs becomes
the third highest for any wicket at a World Cup, eclipsed only by India’s
Ganguly-Dravid alliance of 318 (for India v Sri Lanka, second wicket, Taunton
1999) and the Lankans’ own 282 (Tharanga-Dilshan, first wicket, Pallekele 2011)
against the very Zimbabweans who have taken renewed stick from a different pair
four years on.
The 25-year-old Miller is now blossoming massively in the
50-overs format, revelling in a higher posting in the order and having
registered his first two ODI centuries (both unbeaten) in his 62nd
and 64th appearance respectively – his average is suddenly nosing so
much closer to the 40-mark at 38.18.
He is combining his trademark clean, long hitting – he
threatened the walls both of a funeral parlour and doughnut hut among other
structures on Sunday -- with ever-tightening technique and intelligence in
Duminy, meanwhile, has already boasted those attributes for
some time, and this was merely further evidence of his willingness to take
charge of a situation when the chips are down; the pair rotated strike
beautifully in their productive stint together.
But if the Proteas have some stubborn snags in their makeup,
they come to the fore more painfully on the bowling front, where the presence
of Farhaan Behardien as the fourth seam option with his dibbly-dobbly fare
still serves up more question marks than ticks.
He wasn’t too glaringly the worst performer in an
inconsistent overall showing by the SA attack, in fairness, as even the
highly-touted Steyn was some way off his A-game against Zimbabwe at Seddon Park
and should prefer a much pacier track – hopefully – at the MCG.
But if Behardien is going to leak 40 runs in five overs against
a side as moderate as Zimbabwe in slower, gripping conditions, it doesn’t seem
to bode well for how the Indian strokeplayers may target him across the Tasman
There are already the anticipated signs that this will be
another difficult tournament for the most accomplished and well-rounded of
bowling line-ups, never mind ones featuring essentially part-time and thus more
vulnerable elements like Behardien.
Concerns about the potential weakening on paper of the
Proteas’ tail, if they were to sacrifice him for Wayne Parnell or Kyle Abbott,
But perhaps Vernon Philander’s ability to be at least
resilient at the crease are under-estimated by management and if, say, he and
Parnell were the seven and eight it wouldn’t be the worst situation in the
Besides, if anything South Africa’s trumpeted frontline
batsmen are likely only to be better collectively next time out after the early
woes experienced against the Zimbabweans, and they may get away with fielding a
fluffy tail against an Indian attack which is that team’s weaker suit than its
India saw off fierce rivals Pakistan more convincingly on
paper on Sunday than the Proteas subdued Zimbabwe; there can be no room for any
weak links in De Villiers’s side next weekend.
“Back to the drawing board” is probably too dramatic a
statement, but there are a few holes in the SA fence yet to close up ...*Follow
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing