Cape Town – South Africa, needing to firm up their plans
fairly swiftly for the ICC Champions Trophy in mid-year, cannot afford to
experiment too much more as they embark on the five-match one-day international
series against Pakistan this weekend.
The first ODI is played in Bloemfontein on Sunday (10:00) and
a “settling” phase seems the right medicine now, as there are no further series
after this one in which to fine-tune the national team for the English-hosted
If the Proteas’ Twenty20 brew seems in a fairly alarming
state of uncertainty and instability, a greater sense of continuity is arguably
required at 50-overs level over the next two or three weeks if they are to be
capable of mounting a cohesive, serious challenge in the closing edition of the
So it is difficult to imagine the team’s brains trust not
trying to assemble something as close as possible to a desired “first team”
during the contests against the Pakistanis, who will have their tails up after
thrashing their hosts in the lone T20 contest at SuperSport Park.
South Africa have a 15-player squad for this particular
series, but it may already be too late to fiddle too greatly with combinations.
That said, a delicate balance may have to be struck because
they are sure to be tempted, for instance, to gauge at some point how Test debut
bowling sensation Kyle Abbott might fare in maiden ODI activity.
They will also be mindful of the fact that the resting,
veteran all-rounder Jacques Kallis and (if fit by then) middle-order batsman
and useful “offie” JP Duminy are almost certain to be included for the trip to
the UK in early June.
While those two are absent against Pakistan, the respective likes
of Colin Ingram (for Kallis) and perhaps either of Farhaan Behardien and David
Miller a little lower in the batting order for Duminy may have a final
opportunity against Pakistan to nail down onward places in the squad.
The Proteas are under pressure to earn a morale-boosting
victory in this series, not just because they were upset 2-1 by New Zealand in
their last home ODIs, but also to preserve a proud bilateral record against
South Africa have never yet been beaten in a one-on-one series
against these particular foes, even if the situation is different in a variety
of multi-team tournaments, particularly in the earliest years of the Proteas’
return from isolation when those sort of events were more prolific.
They have beaten Pakistan 4-1 (2002/03) and 3-1 (2006/07)
previously on our soil, and 3-2 (2003/04) and 3-2 again in 2007/08.
In the last series, played in the neutral United Arab
Emirates because of Pakistan’s perceived domestic instability, the Proteas also
won 3-2 in 2010/11.
It is a shame in many ways that no place could be found in
the current SA squad for 20-year-old Lions phenomenon Quinton de Kock, who
shared an influential opening partnership of 83 in only 15.3 overs with
century-maker Graeme Smith in the last ODI against the Black Caps at
Potchefstroom – the hosts sneaked home by one wicket to stave off a whitewash.
The fresh-faced left-hander probably paid a price for “getting
in” on all three occasions then, but failing to push on personally to a big
Considering that bowlers like Ryan McLaren and Lonwabo
Tsotsobe did well in that last ODI, they probably warrant retention for game
one against the Pakistanis.
Whether Morne Morkel has recovered sufficiently from injury
to be deemed battle-ready for the Bloemfontein clash will be gauged when the
squad assembles there shortly, but if not the side for Sunday should not differ
greatly from the following: Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Colin Ingram, AB de
Villiers (capt), Faf du Plessis, Farhaan Behardien/David Miller, Ryan McLaren,
Robin Peterson, Rory Kleinveldt, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
The batting certainly has a lot less of a “green” appearance
to it than the ill-fated T20 line-up last Sunday did, and if there is one
obvious shortcoming it would be that a sixth bowler of genuine repute does not
spring to mind (especially in the absence of Messrs Kallis and Duminy) although
both Du Plessis and Behardien can turn their arms over sporadically if
A winning start would help enormously if it is, indeed,
hoped that personnel may not have to be shuffled too significantly during the
remainder of the series ...
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing