Cape Town – Unless there are some sudden additions to their roster, South Africa have just 13 one-day internationals left to be ready for a forceful assault on the 2019 World Cup in just over seven months’ time.
Are they where they should be? I’d say the jury’s out … which is perhaps even to put it a little diplomatically.
The Proteas leave in nine days for three ODIs (plus a token once-off Twenty20 international) in Australia, before completing their CWC prep through the respective, all-formats summer visits to our shores of Pakistan and Sri Lanka respectively – both those tours will include five important clashes in the 50-overs landscape.
At least all three ODI series will be against fellow top-tier foes, as coach Ottis Gibson and company will not have learned a great deal from the short, just-completed visit of modest neighbours Zimbabwe.
Sunday’s intended third and final T20 was rained off in Benoni, leaving the Proteas 2-0 winners to add to their equally predictable 3-0 sweep of the earlier ODIs.
Gibson used the two limited-overs series, but more especially the shortest-format one, to either blood or see more of a generous crop of inexperienced players.
But his experimental charges were not a great deal more than workmanlike, with several batting question marks, in particular, not able to be wiped emphatically from the whiteboard.
It left the following thought: with inconclusive showings in a number of instances by greenhorns, isn’t time running dangerously short now to not only establish them properly in the first-team plans but magically also evolve them into potential World Cup winners in 2019?
While we saw plenty of confirmation of South African strike power with the ball (the ODI venom of veteran Dale Steyn and wizardry across the two series of similarly evergreen leg-spinner Imran Tahir only added to the general state of health) a certain skittishness seems to remain at the crease.
Admittedly not helped by a couple of untrustworthy pitches along the way, the Proteas all too seldom exploded into genuine dominance of the Zimbabweans in the runs column.
In short, they did not often give the impression of being genuine World Cup contenders in a batting sense, a phenomenon that has stalked them for several months and arguably more.
On top of that, serious issues remain about the fluffiness of the SA tail, which only adds to the pressure on the supposed “cream” batsmen to come off.
Several established customers played limited roles – or in the case of Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock and David Miller no role at all – in the ODIs, and all this did was aggravate the sense of frailty.
The Proteas didn’t look too smart chasing down some modest Zimbabwean totals when the tourists had taken first strike, and in the only match where they had the chance to get in first, they slumped to a red-faced 101 for seven at Bloemfontein before the unlikely figure of Steyn (career-best 60) vitally got them to within a whisker of 200.
One plus was Reeza Hendricks and Heinrich Klaasen both posting half-centuries when they had to hunt down a vaguely demanding 229 for victory in Paarl, so that duo may have slightly enhanced, rather than jeopardised, their World Cup credentials.
Still, Klaasen, for all his strong striking of the ball, showed a frustrating habit over the last couple of weeks of getting out needlessly when the finishing post was well within sight – a luxury that cannot too frequently be repeated against more heavyweight opponents.
You still sense that the Proteas, yet to get to grips with the aching loss of AB de Villiers, lack something in technical tightness and powers of resilience when it comes to their frontline limited-overs batting.
In that regard, perhaps someone like Temba Bavuma, very debatably overlooked for the Zimbabwean ODIs, is the right sort of medicine for a greater feeling of stability?
Gibson said before the series that the feisty, diminutive right-hander, already a Test stalwart, was “still in our conversations” and there has been little evidence subsequently to suggest his name should leave the lips of the brains trust … indeed, actual deployment to the cause seems a wiser course of action.
A mercurial fielder into the bargain, Bavuma has done his very damnedest on two prior ODI appearances to convince of his 50-overs merits: he scored 113 on debut against Ireland in September 2016, and then 48 against Bangladesh around a year later before returning to “twiddle my thumbs” mode for another lengthy period.
Both knocks were as an opener, although he has both the determination and resourcefulness to contribute in other capacities in the order and there is a solid case for saying he should be ahead of all of Dean Elgar, Christiaan Jonker and Khaya Zondo – squad members against Zimbabwe -- in the ODI pecking order.
Perhaps that will be rectified for the looming Australian mission.
Hostilities against the World Cup holders begin at Perth on November 4.
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