India in SA

SA's specialists must spark

2011-01-11 12:04
AB de Villiers (File)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – Heavy runs upfront: that is probably going to be a key prerequisite to success for the Proteas in the five-match one-day international series against India, starting at Kingsmead on Wednesday.

To my mind their squad looks a little light on true all-rounders, even if there are some tidy enough “link” players capable of shining sporadically in their secondary pursuit, whether it is in batting or bowling.

Names which come to mind in that area include JP Duminy, the middle-order batsman who may provide four or five overs of under-valued off-spin if circumstances are right for it, and new cap Faf du Plessis, who falls into pretty much the same boat with his part-time leg-spinners.

Of the versatile players whose first responsibility is always likelier to be with the ball, on the other hand, Johan Botha and Robin Peterson - possibly also Wayne Parnell and improving long-handle man Dale Steyn? - have the ability to “contribute” with the blade, if not necessarily be termed consistent match-winning customers in that capacity.

It is a comfort, of course, that AB de Villiers effectively carries an all-round responsibility because he will keep wicket while still remaining a top-notch batting element.

But while priceless balancer Jacques Kallis sits out most or all of this key tune-up and last-ditch experimentation exercise for both teams ahead of the World Cup, to ensure his own essential fitness for the Subcontinent, the Proteas’ 14 assembled for the next couple of weeks looks conspicuously like a unit comprising “seven batsmen and seven bowlers”.

It is going to mean that whatever combos they pick over the course of the five encounters, they are likely to carry a slightly longer tail than they might customarily wish for. (It is a shame that eagerly-awaited, new attacking leg-spinner Imran Tahir offers no special qualities with bat in hand.)

And that also means that they will require big runs and perhaps some solid partnerships among their most proven ODI batsmen like captain Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Duminy and De Villiers.

The wily Indians will know this much: knock over those men in a hurry and South Africa may just be labouring for truly competitive totals, because Du Plessis is a total rookie and the gradually maturing Colin Ingram and David Miller are astute enough to know that, with respect, this will suddenly be no Zimbabwe-like, fill-your-boots experience.

India are the second-ranked side in ODIs – ailing Test power Australia at least have the comfort of still commanding top slot there for the time being – and will certainly be among the hotter favourites for the World Cup, regardless of how they fare in the remainder of their South African sojourn.

Smith, who averaged a disappointing 28 in the Test series, may well have to face up to his hoodoo bowler Zaheer Khan all over again, while Amla and De Villiers sported decent Test averages mostly on the strength of big respective centuries in the Centurion “620 for four” runs feast at the very outset of the series.

Amla, of course, has a strange “Durban problem” when it comes to batting in an international shirt, so his own portents for the series opener there are not ideal.

He did not come off at Kingsmead in the second Test and also in the Moses Mabhida Stadium T20 extravaganza much more recently, although at least he can say he only boasts one prior ODI appearance in his home city – an innings of seven against Australia.

It is my niggly suspicion that South Africa may come to rue their array of bits-and-pieces players against India, while slightly more orthodox all-rounders like Ryan McLaren and Albie Morkel have been overlooked.

Especially with the potentially crowd-pleasing Morkel not considered – although admittedly he has not been in most champagne form at either of his disciplines for a few months – who is going to do the long-ball bludgeoning for the Proteas in the closing overs?

Miller has the ability, if not yet the required reliability for his country, to go large, but they may well also require a seasoned Smith or De Villiers to “bat through” at times ...

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