Proteas must seal it in house of ghosts

2017-03-01 13:41
AB de Villiers (Getty)

Cape Town – It’s the place where several South African players collapsed to the turf, and one or two wept demonstratively, after possibly the biggest disappointment of their cricketing lives.

But it is also where they will now have to lay the hoodoo to rest in another pretty high-stakes one-day international match on Saturday.

Auckland’s more rugby-synonymous citadel of Eden Park has become the playground for the fifth ODI and series decider between the Proteas and hosts New Zealand on Saturday (03:00, SA time), after the Black Caps crushed AB de Villiers’s charges by seven wickets with five overs to spare in Hamilton on Wednesday to level matters at 2-2.

Considering the bitter memories of their ding-dong, eventful - for various reasons, not all on-field - World Cup semi-final exit at the hands of the same foes in Auckland in early 2015, the tourists would have far preferred the encounter to be a dead-rubber one, so much the better circumstances in which to exorcise any ghosts.

But Martin Guptill’s modern classic innings of 180 not out off only 138 deliveries brutally put paid to any quest by the Proteas to close out the hostilities early and shift to the major metropolis boasting a safe 3-1 lead.

We’ve gone down to the wire and it really seems a toss-up as to which side prevails, given how the series has veered right through the 360 degrees and back in the last few days.

South Africa were unstoppable in game three on a seaming, decent-paced track at Wellington last Saturday, but in the latest clash on a surface requiring more in the way of gumption the New Zealanders were just about as compelling themselves.

You might have to venture “advantage NZ” from here in psychological terms, but at the same time the current SA limited-overs outfit has shown it is made of stern stuff this season, so why shouldn’t the Proteas do what their hosts did and seize back the advantage in the see-sawing series (each team has won one nail-biter and handed out one walloping) when it really matters?

What was a little perturbing from a South African perspective was how utterly clinical and unfussed the Black Caps looked for around two thirds of their innings, in pursuit of a 280 target certain pundits - from each country - believed would possibly be too steep for them.

Of course that task is a whole lot easier when you have an opener - Guptill, making a dramatically splendid return from a layoff - striking it sweetly and clearly hell-bent also on “taking it through”, as he duly did.

It was not the first time he has found the South African attack to his limited-overs liking, even if most of his prior carnage against them has come at Twenty20 level, where he averages 53 against the Proteas from 10 appearances.

If his hamstrings have held up sufficiently after being put to a more strenuous examination than he may have imagined on Wednesday, Guptill naturally shapes up as a serious threat all over again at Eden Park, where a quicker, truer surface is expected - though he won’t mind that too much.

This was something of a comeuppance for the Proteas bowling unit after their gung-ho showing just four days earlier, with no single player really able to keep a suitable lid on the haemorrhaging.

Kingpin Kagiso Rabada boasted the best economy, but even he travelled at well above five runs to the over and was some way off his best, tending to probe a line that was too leg-stump orientated, conceding three wides and joining the mass SA virus of leaking boundaries too easily and frustratingly off crucial ball five or six of overs.

The Proteas were a little less culpable of inefficiency on the batting front, especially considering a powerful finish to their innings (106 runs off the last 10 overs; 72 the last five) which had seemed to promise so much in terms of putting the series to bed right here.

De Villiers again came sparklingly to the fore, following up his 85 at Westpac Stadium with 72 not out - it seems such a wretched shame that he leaves the tour in a few days, just as we swing to Test mode.

But there are some increasing issues of angst in the middle order, where both left-handers JP Duminy and David Miller cannot get properly out of the blocks against the wily Black Caps.

Duminy is particularly flirting with insecurity to his spot once more, considering that he has not fired (top score 34) in eight recent innings - four each against Sri Lanka and New Zealand.

Nor is his supplementary spin contributing much to the cause: at Seddon Park he leaked 26 runs from three overs, when an effective second slow bowler would have aided De Villiers’s options enormously.

Result forecast for Saturday’s decider? Why don’t you try it?

I’m headed for the hills on that subject ...  

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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