Cape Town – They will gratefully bank the win and now aim for a quick series kill at Potchefstroom on Sunday, but South Africa strangely remain all too error-prone and lacking in cohesion in the field.
The Proteas saw off New Zealand by 20 runs in the first of three one-day internationals at Centurion on Wednesday, in an encounter marked by a dropped-catch or misfielding virus afflicting both teams – you could have been forgiven at times if you thought you were watching the Under-14Bs strut their eager but sometimes comedic stuff at schoolboy level.
Certain of the gremlins, especially in areas like outfield dives and pick-ups, could probably still be put down to the struggle to adapt to the dry and far from carpet-like Highveld winter surface conditions, but they don’t excuse very many of the butterfingered occurrences in catching.
AB de Villiers’s troops were particularly culpable on that front, which partly explained why they made rather heavy weather of defending a total in excess of 300, courtesy primarily of a juggernaut partnership of 185 between back-in-the-business Hashim Amla and the rapidly emerging Rilee Rossouw.
Little wonder that the captain confessed afterwards that they needed much further work on the teamwork dynamic and that their fielding coaches might be notably busy in the few days building up to the “Potch” fixture.
De Villiers also said they had been “lackadaisical” in the field and that collective energy levels had fallen short of acceptable standards.
He was largely exempt from the charge personally as he leapt, sprinted and spread-eagled himself around the SuperSport Park turf with customary relish and one or two others did respond in near-equal measure for pure commitment.
The popular stroke-player made the not irrelevant additional point that the ODI side was in the process of bedding down some new personnel and that they are also still shaking off rust -- even following the short series in Bangladesh which was their first deployment since the bitter disappointment of the World Cup exit to these very same foes at the end of last summer.
Still, it has been a feature of the South African 50-overs side for two or three years, arguably, that they tend to mix the sublime with the sloppy in fielding terms, which just makes the job of winning keenly-contested matches that crucial bit harder.
The tone for a blooper-heavy session in the field by the Proteas was set immediately when Tom Latham, who went on to a score of 60, was put down by Farhaan Behardien – a tough chance, admittedly – off the very first delivery of the reply innings from Dale Steyn.
Only three balls later, ODI debutant David Wiese then spilled a chance at slip offered by Luke Ronchi, before Amla mercifully took a sharp, low catch at first station in the cordon off the closing delivery of Steyn’s eventful and highly impressive over.
Further gaffes would follow, like the unfortunate Wiese – he also had an expensive night with the ball, leaking at nine to the over – fluffing another catch behind, and a caught-and-bowled chance into the bargain.
Kagiso Rabada also grassed a swirling skier near the boundary, although Behardien managed to atone for his early blemish by taking a fine catch on the run near the fence to ensure the late-innings downfall of Nathan McCullum.
It is frustrating watching the Proteas produce such regularly mixed bags of competence in the field, especially because, as former national captain Kepler Wessels noted, they seem to have the makings of a really slick unit in that department.
Yet it remains a fact that at this stage they fall some way short of emulating some of the machine-like SA outfits of the past, a phenomenon that peaked in the era of Hansie Cronje as captain and such freakish beacons of excellence as Jonty Rhodes and Herschelle Gibbs around him.
At the very worst at Senwes Park on Sunday (10:00 start), it would be comforting to see significant improvement ...
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