Death overs still shaky for Proteas

2017-02-21 10:50
Kagiso Rabada (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Two one-day internationals, two conspicuous failures in a row to turn the screws in the field.

That South Africa won both of their most recent ODI fixtures nevertheless, speaks volumes for their general proficiency and imperiousness at present – they are, in fact, on a SA record-equalling roll of 12 victories on the trot in the format.

But with the bigger picture of June’s ICC Champions Trophy in mind, the Proteas’ main strategists will be acutely aware that they leaked too many runs either in or toward the death overs, first against Sri Lanka at Centurion, bowling second, and then against New Zealand at Hamilton bowling first.

You could argue, in their defence, that in the dead-rubber fifth ODI clash with the ‘Lankans at SuperSport Park on February 10, they were never in real danger of losing the high-scoring match when the tourists – very much after the lord mayor’s show -- pulled out some late-innings fireworks from the crease.

Having posted a beefy 384 themselves, the Proteas then killed off the game as a contest by reducing the visitors to 199 for eight just before the end of the 39th over.

But it is a concern that Sri Lanka ended in defiant fashion, lashing a further 97 runs in some 11 overs without any further setback in the wickets column to give their own scorecard a deceptive degree of respectability.

In the process, Asela Gunaratne gleefully banked his maiden ODI century, and found a stubborn ally in No 10 Suranga Lakmal, much better renowned for his seam-bowling exploits.

Letting the opposition off the hook developed into a mini-trend by SA on Sunday, as New Zealand were allowed to post a considerably more challenging total than had previously seemed likely – and one that so nearly did work in their favour in the unbearably tense first clash of the series.

The Black Caps went near-ballistic in the closing overs after the Proteas had done admirable hard yards earlier to curtail them to what looked like being a more moderate score in their weather-curtailed 34 overs.

Thanks to the spirited striking of Colin de Grandhomme and Tim Southee, as many as 49 runs were added in the last three overs, with Chris Morris crashing from wicket-taking hero – he’d bagged four across two earlier spells -- to villain, as his delivery of two of them leaked 38 runs.

In broader terms, Morris is upping his value to the cause, as he boasts successive four-wicket hauls (his first in the format) from the two ODIs in question, and did not take any major “tap” at Centurion – his consistent striking in earlier portions of an innings is a pleasing development.

But by his deliveries disappearing into the proverbial heavens in the closing overs at Seddon Park, we were served a sharp reminder that South Africa are in “transition” when it comes to the unforgiving art of death bowling, now that a particularly obvious candidate like Kyle Abbott has rendered himself unavailable and Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel’s enormous experience is also currently missed.

Kagiso Rabada is doing a pretty steady, unflappable death job at one end, but Morris is a rough diamond in that phase, perhaps inclined to be a little too instinctively “fast and furious”, when hitting more routine lines and lengths and taking some pace off the ball at times might serve him a tad better  in the slog period.

Maybe the time has come – will we even see it in game two at Christchurch from midnight, SA time? – for budding, cool-headed all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo to be given another more conscious crack at providing a decent stint of overs in the climax period.

By his own admission, he needs to get his speed up a fraction to stave off the risk of becoming too one-dimensional, but he is a suitably skiddy and scheming operator, with the capability to bowl full and just inside the margin of legality outside off-stump – a la Andrew Hall of old – to make it difficult for batsmen to get the blade properly beneath the ball.

Evidence from his batting heroics in the Hamilton opener only brought to light again that Phehlukwayo is temperamentally suited to featuring in broader, business-end activity for the Proteas, even if Morris is also made of pretty stern stuff in that regard and any current “death” shortcomings by him may well be more technical – and thus potentially curable -- than anything else.  

The Proteas are blessed by the convenient presence in their coaching ranks of Charl Langeveldt, the specialist bowling mentor who thrived in his playing days, especially at franchise level, in strangulation in the closing overs of limited-overs fixtures so his transfer of skills ought to increasingly take productive root among the SA seamers.

With the weeks ticking down to that ICC tournament, it needs to …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  kagiso rabada  |  cricket

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