Pakistan in SA

Weeping Willowmoore for SA?

2013-03-22 07:12
AB de Villiers (Gallo)
Cape Town – The Proteas are suddenly staring first-time ignominy in the face: possible surrender of two bilateral one-day international series on home turf in the same summer.

That will become a reality if they lose the decisive fifth ODI against Pakistan at Willowmoore Park in Benoni on Sunday (10:00) -- for a 3-2 outcome in the tourists’ favour -- bearing in mind New Zealand’s 2-1 upset triumph on our soil earlier in 2012/13.

The Pakistanis may claim with some justification, following their tight but ultimately deserved three-wicket victory in Durban on Thursday, that momentum lies with them for the all-important closing fixture, particularly as South Africa have injury clouds for it around seasoned troopers Dale Steyn and Graeme Smith.

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Best retort from AB de Villiers and company would be to recreate the sort of genuine “team” performance that marked their crushing 125-run win in Bloemfontein in the first game of the series, easily their most brutal and clinical effort of the combat thus far.

 Since then they have generally played like a confusing combination of a Lamborghini and a smoky diesel tractor, combining fits of individual genius with worrying spells where they go ragged as a collective and only confirm that they are currently fielding several players on training wheels.

In the welcome, dazzling public-holiday sunshine of Kingsmead, South Africa’s fatally below par total of 234 for nine after opting for first strike on a dry pitch was really only given some respectability by a partnership of virtually half those runs between form batsman De Villiers and home-town customer David Miller.

For the last-named player, his ODI career-best 67, after taking to the crease for the start of only the 10th over and at 38 for four, could at least be said to have represented personal manna from heaven.

In the past two or three seasons, the left-handed Miller has mostly found it hard to produce for the Proteas, in either of the two limited-overs formats, the kind of exciting, clean hitting that first earned him maiden caps for his country aged 20.

Saddled with a reputation as a designated “finisher” above all else, he hasn’t even been especially compelling or consistent at that, so to add a slightly unexpected feather to his cap by helping rebuild an innings that was threatening to slip to complete tatters, was a very pleasing development.

Miller had a life on only nine, when he offered up a pretty straightforward catching chance that was grassed – is it just possible that the incident marks a turnaround in his hitherto ho-hum tenure for the South African cause?

A little earlier in the week, former Proteas seamer and forthright television pundit Fanie de Villiers effectively said on his “BVP” Afrikaans programme that he couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about when it comes to the Pietermaritzburg-born batsman, suggesting simultaneously that he would rather see precocious talent Quinton de Kock in the team despite his budding reputation being based more on top-order achievements for the Lions domestically.

So for the moment, Miller is keeping some wolves from his own door – he also fielded outstandingly at Kingsmead, taking a sharp catch and engineering the run-out of Wahab Riaz to give South Africa a brief sniff near the death.

And there is a very real chance of De Kock getting a Benoni call-up anyway as Hashim Amla’s opening partner, because Smith has had a flare-up of an old ankle problem and is deemed a very doubtful starter.

The latter had not been having the best of series even before his setback, having registered a highest score of 30 in four innings against the Pakistanis, although the situation at Willowmoore Park would be tailor-made for his experience and renowned rearguard-action qualities to come to the fore.

If Smith cannot play, the Proteas’ batting line-up will look more and more like a SA ‘A’ sort of combo in character, bearing in mind that – even if Amla and De Villiers remain massively reassuring presences – they are already lacking all of Jacques Kallis, JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis.

All of the absent trio also offer bowling strings to their bows, which will greatly improve the balance of the South African team, it must be remembered, when the Champions Trophy comes along in England in mid-year.

As it is presently shaped, the side really only offers five bowlers who can be called specialists at the trade, which badly limits the options for captain De Villiers: in Durban, he called on Colin Ingram’s dubious part-time fare for an ill-fated single over that haemorrhaged 17 runs.

That decision was influenced by pace spearhead Steyn being troubled by a seemingly whiplash-created head, neck and shoulder injury, linked to a brave but awkward dive and landing for a caught-and-bowled attempt.

The Phalaborwa Express otherwise did a sterling job on the day, returning his most economical figures yet (10-3-26-1) for a full 10-over quota, in his 71st ODI.

So Steyn getting a green light for Benoni could be an important development, even if the just-about-ready-again Morne Morkel is an attractive option off the “bench” for the decider.

The Proteas have only lost one of seven ODIs at Willowmoore Park, although they have never previously played Pakistan there and most of their six wins have come against minnows like Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Kenya.

From a Pakistani perspective, if their captain Misbah-ul-Haq could enthuse after the Kingsmead triumph that it “felt like playing in Lahore” for volume of support for his team, he may have cause to expect it to some extent again at Benoni, home to a fairly large Muslim community ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  pakistan in sa  |  ab de villiers  |  cricket


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