ICC Champions Trophy

Riot act to attack can lift SA

2013-06-06 22:36
Ryan McLaren (AFP)
Cape Town – The Proteas, in a situation compounded by worrisome uncertainty over the fitness of kingpin strike bowlers Dale Steyn and now also Morne Morkel, find themselves fighting desperately from the trenches already at the ICC Champions Trophy.

In a nutshell, the short format of this event means teams losing their first of only three group matches face the white-knuckle ride of knowing that triumphs in each of the remaining two will almost certainly be required to advance to the semi-finals.

Lose to Pakistan in a day-night fixture at Edgbaston on Monday (14:00 SA time) and AB de Villiers and company may well be completing their tournament with a demoralising dead-rubber encounter with West Indies later next week.

Absent ODI batsman and Test captain Graeme Smith also cautioned in his debut as a SuperSport studio pundit on Thursday that a “very hostile, Pakistan-based crowd” awaited the team at the Birmingham venue for a do-or-die tussle.

Inevitably, the South Africans’ opening loss to world No 1-ranked India by 26 runs at Cardiff has provoked the usual stream of anger locally in social media and the like, with the “choke” word so often heard before at ICC jamborees being tossed around with abandon.

The Proteas hardly choked in this one ... there was an awful lot of coughing and spluttering, it is true, but they were pretty much beaten even before they took to the crease, considering India’s lofty total of 331 for seven after being sent in by AB de Villiers.

If anything, they showed welcome comeback belligerence in managing to get past the 300-mark themselves in reply, and that is something to bank for the plus column ahead of the showdown with Pakistan.

One big shortcoming, in the final analysis, cost them the game: the glaring failure of their seamers (the impressively swift and generally accurate Morkel apart, until his untimely quad strain) to work out the correct, fuller length to bowl and then stick to that template too.

Former national captain and fast-medium great Shaun Pollock feels the attack as currently constituted is a bit too “bang it in” and although some of those sort of deliveries did give Indian batsmen some angst and even the odd helmet rattle, the winning side’s enlightening unwillingness to be cowed by the barrage and to seriously take it on instead probably caught the Proteas by surprise.

There may also -- after what looked like the winning of a good toss just before the clouds lifted and then virtually disappeared -- have been a fatal, subconscious feeling among the SA quickies that they simply had to pitch up to bundle out the opposition for a low score.

Instead openers Rohit Sharma and the left-handed Shikhar Dhawan, who smashed a withering century in his first ODI appearance against the Proteas, quickly got their team onto the front foot in increasingly pleasant sunshine and that momentum was only occasionally checked subsequently.

It didn’t help the South African quest to stop the haemorrhaging that their fielding and catching was ropey, whilst some of the Indian television commentators picked up that, with cumbersome characters like Rory Kleinveldt and Lonwabo Tsotsobe in the same XI, the Proteas looked unusually immobile as a unit.

That is another matter they have to chew on ahead of the next contest; it did not help the approval ratings of either of those players mentioned that each went for 80-plus runs in his 10-over stint.

But it would also be grossly unfair for people to make Kleinveldt and Tsotsobe scapegoats for this reverse: yes, they fluffed their lines (or perhaps that should read lengths?) on the day, but both men have played very compelling ODIs for the Proteas before and will probably do so again.

Besides, alternative pace options in the now-stretched tour party hardly come dime a dozen and although official notice had not yet been given at the time of writing, expect South Africa to fly in a reinforcement fairly smartly – perhaps one of Chris Morris, Kyle Abbott or Wayne Parnell, although there is also a swelling lobby of critics urging ODI redeployment for Vernon Philander.

With luck, and possibly jolted by some no-nonsense words in their ears, certain of the current bowling line-up will come back smoking at Edgbaston.

There is also still a case for suggesting that the harsher of Proteas “fans” get a life and realise that no team has an automatic right to win any one-day international at the snap of the fingers.
India played very well and South Africa stuttered on Thursday ... get over it and move on?

Some aspects were pleasing, and do provide hope that the side may yet knock over both Pakistan and West Indies, both of them lower than the Proteas on the ODI rankings – bear in mind that only a few months ago South Africa beat the very Pakistanis 3-2 in a home series.

For if De Villiers’s troops are going to have to bite the bullet in the absence of one or both of Steyn and Morkel deeper into the tournament, they could do worse than try to emulate collectively the fight shown against India by the likes of part-time bowler JP Duminy, the pinch-hitting batting resolve of Robin Peterson, and Ryan McLaren’s stubborn refusal to throw in the towel in both departments.

He is proving a bit of a revelation in UK conditions he knows reasonably well, and it may be worth McLaren providing half of the new-ball pairing in the next match.

It’s got much harder, quickly, for the Proteas at the event, but they haven’t died yet.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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