ICC Champions Trophy

Limp Proteas can only improve

2013-06-03 22:57
Rory Kleinveldt (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – Perhaps the best Proteas supporters can do after their heavy ICC Champions Trophy warm-up defeat to group rivals Pakistan at The Oval on Monday is trust that a little bit of history will repeat itself.

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When South Africa last visited England - for a full, all-codes tour against those specific foes last year - they were also pretty inept in the limb-loosening phase straight out of our winter, getting lethargic draws with weakened county sides Somerset and Kent and looking for all money as if they were still rusty and ill-prepared going into the first Test against the host nation at the very same venue they played this match at.

Instead the tourists went up two or three gears in a hurry, thrashing the possibly unsuspecting English by an innings to set the tone for the crucial series which they later won to go top of the world in the five-day format.

So does that mean India are in for a grilling from AB de Villiers’s charges when the limited-overs tournament-proper begins at Cardiff on Thursday (11:30 SA time)?

Based on a showing from the Proteas during which commentator and former Pakistani great Wasim Akram said he had “seldom seen South Africa so off-colour in all departments”, it is tempting to significantly hedge your bets.

Then again, outgoing national coach Gary Kirsten is publicly no special fan of warm-ups, and so far in his tenure the troops have generally reserved proper execution of their script for when it really counts.

There’s no point in peaking too soon, of course, and in that regard there’s a case for saying the unusually intense, consistently slicker Pakistanis won’t have it nearly so good in the Group B encounter with the Proteas at Edgbaston on Monday week.

But it also doesn’t mean the South Africans can nonchalantly sidestep a bit of soul-searching: this was a wretched performance and they will know it, even if it always had that unmistakably artificial feel that goes with the dubious luxury of teams making use of all squad members if they so desire, albeit that only 11 still bat.

Thank goodness for that licence, too ... it allowed the Proteas to bring in JP Duminy in the rare, lowly position of No 8 to begin a repair job of some magnitude from 67 for six after being sent in on a track offering some seam movement up front and then easing up a lot under pleasant sunshine.

Duminy belatedly brought some sanity to an innings that had hitherto seen outrageous, fatal levels of urgency or misjudgement from several senior batsmen.

It was almost as if he was the only one to appreciate that this was a 50-overs affair, not one of the T20 variety, as he grafted his way diligently to 43 off 91 balls with just one boundary to his name.

The little left-hander’s partnership of 94 for the eighth wicket in some 23 overs with Ryan McLaren went a very long way to explaining why South Africa somehow managed to see out their 50 overs for a still-insufficient total just above the 200-mark.

McLaren certainly scored some brownie points for ongoing deployment in the tournament itself: although sadly unofficial for him, this 55 off 72 deliveries with six fours was his personal best knock in the format in his country’s colours, and he played with what commentator Alan Wilkins (ex-Glamorgan and Northern Transvaal) described as “a bat full of authority”.

The 30-year-old all-rounder, who is showing signs of finally settling routinely into the Proteas’ plans, was especially authoritative on the straight drive and also with some cheeky reverse sweeps at times.

Nobody bowled particularly well or glaringly badly when South Africa tried to defend their humdrum score; Pakistan were always going to win after Dale Steyn and Lonwabo Tsotsobe got slapped about a bit in their initial spells – even if there was also some good fortune involved for the cavalier top-order Pakistani players  which meant they were always well ahead of the required scoring rate.

One ray of light for the Proteas was Tsotsobe, who normally bowls his best fare at the outset, did things rather the other way around in this match, looking focused and less wayward in a later burst which may be a sign that he has genuinely worked on bettering his stamina.

Steyn left the park after a solitary five-over spell, appearing to have a minor problem of some sort with his left side, although De Villiers brushed it off as seemingly nothing serious in an immediate snap interview.

Of further mild concern, perhaps, was that experienced soldier Robin Peterson was hopping around uncomfortably after being struck on the foot by a yorker-length ball towards the end of the SA innings, and then didn’t bowl at all when the team re-appeared for the second part of the encounter.

Maybe the Proteas simply wanted back-up left-arm spinner Aaron Phangiso to get a reasonably extended bowl instead, and we were left none the wiser about his abilities in seven tidy enough overs without anything to show in the wickets column, and turn elusive for him.

Some catches went down, with both Colin Ingram – a dolly - and Alviro Petersen culprits in the cordon behind the stumps.

Lots of boxes ticked on the day?

Hardly, but at the same time I wouldn’t count on coach Kirsten or too many others having a sleepless night because of it.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  icc champions trophy  |  cricket

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