Proteas: Beware Boult from the blue!

2017-02-11 13:06
Trent Boult (Getty Images)

Cape Town - South Africa’s confidence could hardly be higher as the new No 1-ranked one-day international outfit head off on Saturday for a tough five-game challenge against third-placed New Zealand on their own soil.

They do so fresh off the novelty of earning successive 5-0 sweeps of full-length series on home turf – never before have they won every single ODI in bilateral combat during a South African season, something that also includes a once-off triumph over minnows Ireland in Benoni.

The rampant Proteas also command the record for most consecutive home victories in the format, a run that stretched to 14 as they duly completed the whitewash of Sri Lanka at SuperSport Park on Friday night.

It may well go further yet, considering that the next foes in South Africa will be limited Bangladesh, for three ODIs -- during a fuller, all-formats spring tour -- in October.

The NZ-bound Proteas have a nominal, single Twenty20 encounter against the Black Caps to negotiate first (Auckland, Friday), and it will effectively serve as their quick acclimatisation opportunity to conditions there.

Any hard-to-please characters who may say that the national side mostly played notably inferior opposition during the all-conquering period – going back to the 2015/16 campaign – would be at least half wrong.

Eight of the 14 wins were achieved against the country’s long-running major rivals, Australia (five) and England (three).

Many of them were earned by particularly resounding margins, too, suggesting that AB de Villiers’ charges, sometimes also under the capable leadership of Faf du Plessis, really danced as fast as they possibly could.

But those cynics would also have a point, in certain respects.

Sri Lanka, after all, didn’t run their hosts truly close in any of the five just-completed matches, so to some extent there is the danger of the Proteas being undercooked or unfamiliar with the demands of tight finishes in recent times.

Perhaps the biggest drawback, however, is that it has been some time since they last encountered the sort of spicy new-ball bowling that potentially puts a batting team on the back foot within the first 10 or 12 overs.

When the Aussies came here, they did bring the cream of their batsmen, plus arguably first-choice spinner and wicketkeeper of the time, which gave the SA clean sweep an admirable look to those more inclined toward generosity in acknowledgement.

But their seam attack was – or certainly proved – decidedly second-string as they left behind, for varying reasons, all of feisty customers like Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and James Pattinson.

Nor have the ‘Lankan ODIs served up any genuine “bodily harm” or penetrative speedsters to consistently bother the greedy, almost always smooth-firing SA frontline batsmen.

By the time the limited-overs portion of the tour came around, Suranga Lakmal was probably a little jaded after his honest exertions in the Test series, seasoned toe-crusher Lasith “Slinger” Malinga regrettably didn’t fly in to beef the cause due to injury, whilst brisk, teenaged Lahiru Kumara was just too raw to be a regular enough nuisance.

As Kepler Wessels pointed out in SuperSport commentary, if you can’t strike significantly upfront against this settled, menacing specialist Proteas batting order, you are likely to be in trouble.

But that may well be about to change … and you might say South Africa are about to be faced by a Boult from the blue in the quest to unsettle them more concertedly at the outset of their knock.

New Zealand’s left-arm paceman Trent Boult currently lies second on the ODI bowling rankings to the Proteas’ spin maestro Imran Tahir, and thus the best-placed fast bowler on the global pile.

He will give the South African top-order – and perhaps beyond it, in later spells – much more of a hurry-up than they have been used to in ODIs this summer, while swinging the ball dangerously at times too.

Boult enters the series in as buoyant a mental state as the Proteas’ best batsmen, considering that in his last appearance in the format only a week ago, he registered career-best figures of 6/33 against the Aussies at Hamilton, and man-of-the-match in a fixture that saw the Black Caps earn a 2-0 series triumph and reclaim the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy.

His opening partner Tim Southee, similarly a handful when the mood grabs him, also needs little introduction to the South African guests.

Suddenly, the Proteas are going to be back in the fast lane, well mindful that Boult, Southee and company will be trying to bring them to a crashing halt, or at least induce a speed wobble.

Give the South Africans their due: they will be aware of the heightened demands imminently facing them.

They might even revel in a bit of testosterone-laced, real-deal stuff …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  trent boult  |  cricket


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