Proteas need to be extended, ASAP!

2017-02-04 22:41
AB de Villiers (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Perhaps it is just asking too much now to expect Sri Lanka to stretch South Africa, never mind even seize a consolation victory or two, in what is left of the one-day international series.

Losing can become as demoralising as habitual; throw in the increasing ravages of tour fatigue and the visitors look increasingly likely to be clean-swept 5-0.

The quirky disruption of a bee invasion at the Wanderers did very little to draw the sting from the Proteas in game three on Saturday, as they simply underlined the one-sided hallmark of the series with a low-sweat, seven-wicket victory - simultaneously swelling their “Pink Day” record at the Bullring to five out of five.

Completing the task with all of 18 overs to spare, it was every bit as emphatic as the Durban win (by 121 runs) and the Port Elizabeth outcome (by eight wickets, with almost 16 overs in hand).

South Africa have now won a dozen home-staged ODIs in succession, and few would confidently bet against that record stretching to 14 after the pair of dead-rubber fixtures at Newlands (Tuesday) and SuperSport Park (Friday).

Touring Sri Lankan teams of the past have tended to be rather more competitive on our soil than the current crop, who sorely lack blue-chip surnames like Muralitharan, Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Vaas or Malinga - a few years back you might have assumed, alas, that this was their fresh-faced ‘A’ side or something not dissimilar in look and feel.

Not only would a nail-biter be a welcome development for the Capetonian or Centurion-based public over the next few days, but it would be valuable for the Proteas in testing afresh their ability to cope with proper pressure.

That is what they need to experience more of as quickly as possible, given that the ICC Champions Trophy looms ever larger in England in June.

Still, even if the ‘Lankans continue to be badly outplayed in the short term, at least Proteas coach Russell Domingo and company know that stiffer hurdles - at least on paper - are just around the corner.

Following completion of this bilateral series, AB de Villiers’s team have a further five ODIs in New Zealand - starting in Hamilton in just over a fortnight - and then particularly useful three more fittingly on English soil (and against that nation) very shortly before the Champs Trophy.

Both of those bilateral series should strip any danger of complacency from the Proteas’ ranks, although that characteristic seems anything but prevalent right now anyway: they are simply playing what’s in front of them with hunger and polish and developing a pleasing, remorseless streak at the same time.

They will know that the Black Caps will come hard at them in their own environment, fuelled by a long-time unbeaten home record of their own.

New Zealand already cannot lose the mini-series against near-neighbours Australia, as they held a 1-0 lead (one washout) going into Sunday’s final meeting.

Before that, it has been all victories for them in bilateral series in NZ since the Proteas last raided the Land of the Long White Cloud in 2014/15 for a 2-0 triumph.

The New Zealand home wins since then have been against Sri Lanka (4-2), Pakistan (2-0), Australia (1-0), Sri Lanka (3-1), Pakistan (2-0), Australia (2-1) and recently Bangladesh (3-0) - seven on the trot with perhaps another to add by the end of this weekend.

With the ‘Lankan series already safely in the bag, the Proteas have the liberty of some element of experimentation, perhaps both on the field and in selection terms should they wish it, in the closing two contests.

That said, there is little new left to do as far as selection is concerned, unless the wise men opt to hastily draft in a couple of new faces to the squad, because all but one player - unorthodox spinner Tabraiz Shamsi - has had at least one outing thus far.

All-rounder Dwaine Pretorius got his first gallop at the Wanderers on Saturday, and promptly snapped up the player-of-the-match award for his heartening bowling figures of three for 19, underlining the good competition among versatile cricketers in the Proteas’ lower-order.

Whatever line-up South Africa opt to field at Newlands on Tuesday, it is going to require a quite Herculean turnaround for the tourists to suddenly pull one back ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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