Biff misses Proteas' feast

2010-10-23 13:14
Graeme Smith (File)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – South Africa conveniently leave for the United Arab Emirates on Sunday on the back of their most brutal demolition of Zimbabwe in the short ODI series at Benoni.

Friday’s record-breaking 272-run triumph in the third and final match not only completed the anticipated clean sweep but also represented the Proteas’ best all-round display of the trio against their limited neighbours by a country mile.

It means they will hit the ground at Abu Dhabi in pretty good mental shape as the neutral-turf series against stronger – at least they ought to be, despite recent crises -- Pakistan opens with the first Twenty20 international there on Tuesday (18:00 SA time).

South Africa’s seam bowling and fielding had been notable areas of inconsistency and sometimes even ineptitude in the early phase of the Zimbabwe visit, but the Willowmoore Park effort was immeasurably more impressive.

As captain Graeme Smith put it afterwards: “When you’ve got 400 (runs) it’s really easy to drift … but the bowlers set their own standards on the night.”

With a bit of luck, too, South Africa will very shortly return some essential missing pieces to the jigsaw in the form of Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, all of whom will be on the plane.

Although off-spinner Johan Botha again bowled with economy and enterprise in his two appearances in the series – we now know for sure that there is plenty of life after the doosra for him – Rusty Theron probably stuck up his hand the most compellingly among the faster men.

In his debut ODI series, the flame-haired Warriors combatant grabbed 11 wickets at a suitably miserly average of 11.27, spearing in a few devilish yorkers that could barely have been bettered by anyone on the planet.

His tally was more than double that of any other South African bowler, although Wayne Parnell got five and seems to be getting more and more zip back with every outing after his months-long injury layoff.

Both the tracks and outfields for the ODIs were idyllic for brandishing the willow on, so there was always the likelihood of one or two members of the home attack receiving some tap at times, even from Zimbabwe – consider too that this is the easily the strongest suit of the young, rebuilding “Zim” side.

Certainly from a batting point of view, the Proteas did everything that could have been expected of them against Elton Chigumbura and company at the backwaters of Bloemfontein, Potchefstroom and Benoni.

Thus there were bloated series averages for various South African batsmen, with AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla leading the way with two centuries apiece.

But JP Duminy, pleasingly, also regained much mojo after a pretty serious dip in both form and confidence last summer.

It was a great move to install him at No 3 for the last outing, where he duly responded with a career-best 129 in his 61st ODI.

He has batted there once before for South Africa, but that was in a one-sided, “finish-off” chase three years ago against the same opponents.

Here he had the opportunity to genuinely craft an innings and did so wonderfully. More often he has tended to operate in the middle-order when the slog is either on, or fast approaching, so he clearly revelled in the rare responsibility afforded him.

We also saw further evidence of why David Miller is beginning to be regarded more and more as a Lance Klusener clone as a clean and quite devastating clubber of boundaries during the closing overs of the innings.

The general carnage at the crease achieved by South Africa did mask one relatively minor drawback: skipper Smith’s failure to fill his socks properly against a weak bowling arsenal.

He had a bit of a “get in and get out” sort of series, registering scores of 19, 40 and 26, although he almost always helped the Proteas get off to a flier from a tempo point of view.

Still, a phenomenon of only moderate scoring in ODIs has stalked the big left-hander for some time – since, in fact, his gutsy 141 in a losing cause against England at Centurion in the Champions Trophy early last season.

In 13 knocks subsequently, he has reached the half-century mark just twice, although also seldom failed outright.

At least his successive knocks of 58 and 46 in the T20 contests which preceded the ODIs showed that he is not exactly in the midst of an outright form crisis, or one of those “technical” troughs he experiences from time to time when his feet stop moving properly.

It is one cricket’s most saturated clichés, but there does appear to be some “momentum” building around the Proteas’ ODI side as they anticipate the stiffer Emirates challenge …


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