ODIs: SA must be pushed … and on better tracks!

2019-01-15 12:21
Faf du Plessis (Gallo)
Faf du Plessis (Gallo)

Cape Town – Pakistan, backed up by abundant enough statistical data, are likely to give South Africa a fiercer scrap in the five-match one-day international series than they did in the just-completed Test portion of their tour here.

Several of the personnel, across both teams, who took part in the 3-0 sweep achieved by the Proteas will change for the 50-overs combat, and that is just one reason to caution against the host nation romping to the ODI trophy simply on the grounds that they had the Pakistanis in a vice-like grip for so much of the Test roster.

As the 2019 World Cup in England is now little more than four months away, It would be mutually beneficial, too, if there are some nail-biters along the way in the next couple of weeks, starting with Saturday’s first meeting at St George’s Park (13:00), as such games often provide best yardsticks as to which players – especially among the less proven ones - produce under the heaviest pressure.

Like most other countries, SA and Pakistan are busy fine-tuning their squads and indulging in liberal amounts of experimentation and individual “trials” in readiness for the major event.

Recent history points fairly promisingly to the teams being closer together in competitiveness terms over the next three weeks than proved to be the case in the Tests.

It would be short-sighted, for instance, if the Proteas masterminds stick to the mildly controversial policy during the five-day activity of seeking notably lively – to the point of “up and down” hallmarks – pitches around the country.

That would be no way to boost confidence among batsmen ahead of CWC, where surfaces should be relatively conducive to high totals unless the UK early-summer weather is grim and the ball seams excessively or turns on sticky, gripping tracks.

You have to assume it will be preferable to both sides if they encounter at least a few really true, trustworthy and healthy-paced belters during the looming ODIs.

Just in terms of the current ICC rankings, there is every reason to anticipate ding-dong fortunes even if the gut feel of many local pundits will be to back Faf du Plessis and company to do the “double” over these foes: the Proteas are ranked fourth, and Pakistan just one spot behind in fifth.

South Africa have won three series in a row since their embarrassing 5-1 home reverse to India last season: away against Sri Lanka, home against Zimbabwe, and away against Australia most recently.

It suggests they are finding some renewed levels of polish and consistency, whereas Pakistan, by contrast, have been crazily unpredictable (psst, heard that one before?) in ODIs of late.

They shared a three-match series 1-1 (one no-result) with the fast reawakening New Zealand in the United Arab Emirates before Christmas, but had a serious rollercoaster ride ahead of it: failure to make the final of the 2018 Asia Cup (where India saw off Bangladesh), but a merciless 5-0 away clean-up of Zimbabwe … and 5-0 result the less desirable way around, from their perspective, against Sri Lanka in the UAE.

Those are exactly the types of outcomes that make you wonder, almost eternally, who the “real” Pakistan are, despite them seldom being short of gifted, X-factor individuals.

Nevertheless, a sobering thought for Proteas enthusiasts is that Pakistan currently sport pretty impressive bragging rights in strictly bilateral terms between the two in ODIs.

They are, for example, holders of the latest major multinational ICC tournament title, the Champions Trophy of 2017 in England and Wales – along the way, they knocked over the Proteas at Edgbaston by 19 runs in a Duckworth/Lewis-influenced affair.

They also eclipsed South Africa at Auckland in a pool match at the last World Cup (2015), and will begin the slug-out on Saturday in Port Elizabeth buoyed by the knowledge that they won the last bilateral 50-overs series on our soil: 2-1 in 2013/14.

Another rollover by Pakistan in the offing on this tour?

It might just be prudent to revise that thought.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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