How blue Proteas can get back in the pink

2019-01-27 20:43
Proteas (Gallo Images)
Proteas (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - A sturdier “bridge”, if you like, between their inconsistent specialist batting arsenal and dangerous frontline bowling department.

That seems the best course of action, at least in the short term, for South Africa at Newlands on Wednesday in what has become an effective final of their one-day international series against Pakistan.

The tourists a little unexpectedly registered the most one-sided victory of the four games thus far on Sunday, romping to an eight-wicket triumph in just the 32nd over of their innings at the Wanderers ... certainly leaving the home unit, who have previously revelled in the regular Pink Day experience there, several shades of blue instead.

There is a significant risk now that the Proteas, locked at 2-2, will suffer a second home ODI series reverse in a row to a Subcontinent team, bearing in mind that they were humiliated by a record 5-1 margin by India last season.

The fragile Bullring showing by Faf du Plessis’s charges harked a little ominously back to several games in that galling series, when they suffered a few defeats by similarly gaping margins to Sunday’s, including successive ones by nine and eight wickets in the two matches (the second and sixth) that were played at nearby Centurion.

Especially worrying, however, is that the latest thumping has come with a World Cup inching ever closer.

Still, a winner-takes-all fixture is hardly the worst scenario for both outfits, with CWC 2019 in mind: it represents a special opportunity for some players in both camps - especially ones not yet certain of their presences at the global event - to demonstrate “BMT” in a pressure-cooker environment.

The Proteas remain well less than structurally settled, in terms of how to strike the best possible balance between their batting and bowling needs.

Just based on evidence from the Johannesburg near-debacle, some sort of dilution of their strike potential with the ball may well be required at Newlands, even if it may seem unpalatable to many, to better fortify their enduringly erratic batting.

With veteran, versatile middle-order man JP Duminy not available quite yet as a crossover figure of reasonable repute, the present Proteas tactic has been to simply go more glaringly with a “six batsmen, five bowlers” brew.

That is all well and good when your specialists with the blade can be considered routinely dominating. But that just isn’t the case with South Africa, frankly, and hasn’t been for a long time - a situation aggravated by the staggered departure from the cause of Rilee Rossouw and, especially, AB de Villiers.

The Proteas were bundled out for a woefully un-Wanderers-like 164 in their latest clash, in a criminal 41 overs.

A sobering reminder that they are glaringly lacking in depth through the order came via the fact that not even a more-than-stabilising third-wicket alliance between stalwarts Hashim Amla and Du Plessis - it got them to 119 for two in the 26th over - could provide any kind of platform for a prosperous “second half” onslaught in the innings.

South Africa regressed quite lamentably, the last eight wickets falling for 45 runs on a pitch more traditionally renowned for allowing mammoth totals in daytime conditions, even if Du Plessis protested afterwards that this one was more receptive to turn than he might have wished.

Against that backdrop, the Proteas (at least with current squad personnel) appear to be edging back to a situation for the decider where the most agreeable fix is to pin faith in two bowling-orientated all-rounders in their stubbornly problematic No 7-8 territory.

Yes, it would mean losing an out-and-out paceman for the time being, but also give the tail that vital bit less of a too-fluffy look.

Simultaneously, it would ease the almost intolerable burden on the more frontline souls at the crease to guard against being too adventurous – all too mindful of the shortcomings frequently at play in what was an altogether more resilient and productive part of the batting line-up in the Mark Boucher/Shaun Pollock sort of days.  

If the brains trust agree that this is the most logical course of action for Newlands, then Dwaine Pretorius will return to the side (probably at No 7) after being inactive since the first ODI in Port Elizabeth - he had been the Proteas’ most economical bowler - and Andile Phehlukwayo shift down one slot to eight, which really seems a better station for his instinctively risk-taking brand of stroke-play.

Make no mistake, Phehlukwayo is an exhilarating, agreeably self-motivated general cricketing package, and still so far away from his prime, but the way he batted (and then was unnecessarily rashly dismissed) at the Wanderers only served to remind that if, for example, he was a member of England’s currently No 1-ranked ODI side, he would be very unlikely to bat anywhere above nine in their depth-laden batting department - at least at this point in his development.

Bottom line: however they facilitate it, the Proteas have GOT to bat deeper.

Do some people still not see that?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    pakistan  |  proteas  |  rob houwing  |  cricket


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