SA batting hides the cracks

2010-10-16 07:38
Hashim Amla (Gallo Images)
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Bloemfontein – Riding on the back of their blissfully smooth-firing batting line-up, South Africa’s weakened bowling troops are getting away with some near-embarrassing run concession to the minnows of Zimbabwe at present.

The Proteas added the scalp of their neighbours in the first Standard Bank ODI here on Friday to their back-to-back triumphs in the Twenty20 series – and in similar fashion, despite the change of code.

For the third game on the trot, Graeme Smith’s side underlined their depth of prowess at the crease, particularly in the “upfront” regions of the order, effectively putting the fate of the contest beyond doubt by racing to a total in excess of 350.

That ever-blooming dominator Hashim Amla provided another scorching century without having to resort to any special levels of flamboyance to do so, while the other three-figure score came from debutant Colin Ingram, who showed both in the middle and at the after-match press conference that he is a young batsman with the proverbial good head on his shoulders.

Once again, though, the Proteas could not manage to bowl Zimbabwe out, or even come truly close to doing so.

The men in red had posted commendable totals of 168 for four and 186 for seven in the T20 reverses, and here they were at it again, notching up a buxom 287 for six even as defeat was always the heavily-favoured outcome.

In soccer terms, say, this was not unlike a relegation-zone team smashing in three goals at Stamford Bridge but nevertheless losing 5-3 to Chelsea.

No matter what the favourable state of the Outsurance Oval pitch, it was difficult to escape the thought that the lowly-rated Zimbabweans, who showed further bravado and free spirit on the front-foot drive, probably got 50 or 60 runs more than they should have against a supposed top-tier nation.

These are educative times for us all, in the gradual build-up to the 2011 World Cup, as South Africa (usefully, in so many ways) make do for the time being without Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Jacques Kallis.

Worryingly, then, we again saw the majority of the Proteas seamers travel at an unacceptable six or so runs to the over: what would happen if they were tossed into conflict on a benign track tomorrow – rather than in a few weeks’ time -- with cock-a-hoop India and their array of mighty stroke-players?

Of the fast-medium quartet employed here, only Albie Morkel, who is clearly working very hard to get some crackle and pop back, avoided a pasting on the night, while it was left to the wiles of off-spinner Johan Botha – also not for the first time -- to do some constructive degree of “tying down” in the middle-innings period.

Smith, a little surprisingly, was quite charitable about the bowling performance afterwards, although he did make some legitimate points at the same time.

“Once you get 350 on the board it’s quite difficult in the field; (it was a) beautiful batting pitch and a good outfield. In patches with the ball we were very good, and at times we drifted a bit.

“The first 10 overs we were a little loose, letting them get away, especially after the first two or three overs had gone well. And towards the end it’s not that easy when a team is not that competitive any more. But there are always things to improve on.”

When it was suggested by Sport24 that further evidence was arguably served that when Messrs Steyn and Morne Morkel are not around, the Proteas are a little too wanting in genuine strike material, the captain replied: “Yes, I think that’s fair. When you’ve got one guy who can bowl at 140-150km with swing and another who is getting bounce and still reaching 145km/h, they’re wonderful assets to have.

“You always want to set up your attack with variety and (that pair) definitely offer that. But at present it’s an opportunity for others to get their skills right and focus on that. Some of these guys will still be needed when the injured ones return, so it’s important they reveal their worth.”

With the World Cup not terribly far away, at what stage of the summer did Smith wish to be fielding a pretty settled “best XI” in ODIs?
“That question is answered by the players, really. Tactically the leadership of the team – Corrie (van Zyl), the selectors and myself -- have certain ideas but the players who get the opportunities will answer those questions by the way they perform and handle the pressures they’re confronted with.

“As captain it was nice to see Colin get such quality time in the middle today and David (Miller) to walk in, in his position, and get 50 off 30. Those are the things you’re looking for.”

Meanwhile Brendan Taylor, who carried his bat through the Zimbabwe innings for a career-best 145 not out, gave some idea of the luxury of life against opponents missing their bowling “meanies”.

“For sure, it’s quite a relief at the moment knowing they’re not around,” he told Sport24.

“On a wicket like that you can sort of (prosper against) that sort of bowling. I’m sure they’ll be back and I wish them a speedy recovery … maybe we’ll even see them at the end of the series (in Benoni on Friday).”

Only the lanky Morkel is expected to be considered for that game, as the travelling circus switches first to Potchefstroom on Sunday, and just the possibility that South Africa’s existing seam department will be gleefully targeted anew.

It would be a good time for someone to really stand up …

Read more on:    zimbabwe  |  proteas

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