Cape Town – South Africa will set off for the 2015 World Cup shortly, more sure than ever that they sport a near-embarrassment of specialist batting riches.
Wednesday’s slightly shortened final one-day international against West Indies at Centurion, which ensured a satisfying 4-1 outcome in the Proteas’ favour, turned out to be another of those remorseless floggings of the visiting attack in the series.
While the bowling has not remained without certain hiccups, SA stroke-players have feasted regally over the last couple of weeks, including the achievement of significant new records like AB de Villiers’s fastest ever ODI century at the Wanderers.
Then there has been Hashim Amla, that unerring accumulator, amassing a jaw-dropping 413 runs in four appearances at an average of 206.5, including a 19th personal century in the format at SuperSport Park.
The Proteas decided to rest De Villiers for the closing game, and acting captain Amla simply used the opportunity to demonstrate that, at times, the generally more classical batsman is capable of similar bursts of crowd-wowing flamboyance to his expressive team-mate.
Powered further by his 133 off 105 deliveries on Wednesday, Amla shattered his own landmark (against the same hapless foes away in 2010) for most runs by a South African batsman in a bilateral series.
Of course David Miller bursting through a previously stubborn psychological barrier by netting a majestic maiden ton of his own at Port Elizabeth was another satisfying box to tick, pre-World Cup, for the brains trust.
But there was a cherry on top of the series run-fest by the Proteas in the final fixture, as Rilee Rossouw slightly stole Amla’s thunder with an even swifter three-figure effort as he lashed a career-best 132 – doing so just inside the 100-ball mark and reaching the century itself off just 83.
Their new best third-wicket stand for the country of 247 knocked any new-found optimism brutally out of West Indies, rather suggesting the tourists’ narrow St George’s Park triumph on Sunday was a false dawn for them.
Losing gunslinger Chris Gayle for a golden duck to an abysmal slash at a wide ball from Kyle Abbott was hardly the best way to head out of the blocks in pursuit of an unlikely 362 from 42 overs, and it went some way to explaining why South Africa eventually won by the consummate margin of 131 runs with Wayne Parnell coming to the fore on the seam front at a very good time for him.
Left-hander Rossouw’s innings, however, rightly earned him the man-of-the-match mantle and as much as he has been glaringly fitful in 13 ODIs thus far, the 25-year-old registering two tons in the space of only some 10 days does confirm the X-factor many have been adamant he possesses.
Under current circumstances, the Free Stater will probably remain the designated “first reserve” batsman at the World Cup, but his Centurion blitz, punctuated by some of the cleanest drives and pulls imaginable, would also have served as a useful reminder to more entrenched batsmen in the SA party that he is pushing to play, and not just wear a sideline bib.
Rossouw looks particularly suited to a slot around three or four – several of his failures have been as a makeshift opener – so Faf du Plessis, for example, who has been a reasonably modest contributor since his bumper tally of runs in the Zimbabwe triangular a few months ago, may just have to begin looking over his shoulder a bit.
He earned glowing praise during his Centurion performance from several of the television commentators, with legendary former captain Graeme Smith saying: “Once Rilee put the hammer down, the West Indies bowlers stopped doing the right things.”
Shaun Pollock, no doubt mindful of Rossouw’s slightly quirky ODI career in statistical terms thus far, noted: “If he gets as far as double figures, you’re in trouble (as the bowling side).”
Meanwhile West Indian pundit and ex-Test fast bowler Ian Bishop, who must have seen several ace blasters in his neck of the woods during the heyday of Caribbean cricket, was moved to say: “He strikes it fearsomely hard.”
Impatient, ambitious South African substitute batsman at the World Cup?
That’s got to be good ...
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