Proteas: Now fix AB at No 3, please!

2017-10-27 07:00
AB de Villiers (Getty)

Cape Town - Little and large, young and old, vastly experienced and notably rookie.

Ottis Gibson has perused a lot of South African players - even while plenty more have been in various states of injury rehabilitation - in what might be described as his maiden, live-action “countrywide tour” at the helm in recent weeks.

The new Proteas head coach should be happy enough, too, with the national team’s ongoing, very clear-cut mastery of Bangladesh, now stretching into all three formats of the game.

That his record stands at “played six, won six” should not be deemed surprising, of course, and local expectation will understandably be completion of a 7/7 full house (both Test matches, all three one-day internationals, both Twenty20 clashes) when the Tigers’ tour winds up with the final T20 fixture in Potchefstroom on Sunday (14:30).

What is striking is that South Africa have shown ruthlessness, intelligence and composure pretty much across the board so far, which is everything you could wish of them even as some ungenerous souls are bound to mumble about the often frail calibre of the opposition.

That “no let-up” approach even applied to an acceptable extent in what can safely be described as the closest of the bilateral encounters thus far on Thursday night, with the Proteas winning the first T20 at Mangaung Oval by 20 runs - just wide enough to stave off any major jitters over the outcome in their ranks.

Bearing in mind that they were fielding a seam attack sporting a grand total of only 16 prior caps in T20 internationals, the host nation defended their tidy 195 for four competently.

Second-change Andile Phehlukwayo was the “senior” figure with seven appearances before Bloemfontein, Beuran Hendricks - first game for SA in three and a half years - had five, Dane Paterson four and stocky 33-year-old Robbie Frylinck was on debut.

All had their promising flashes, with Phehlukwayo in particular confirming his wide skills set in limited-overs cricket and Paterson looking more and more like the sort of figure the country has lacked for so long: a guy genuinely enthusiastic and confident about taking charge in the critical death phase.

It is true that Paterson, who took some tap in the ODIs, needs work on his earlier spells, but with someone like fast-bowling guru Gibson in overall charge, the skiddy speedster - he combined guile with lively, sometimes 145km/h pace - should only get better.

The Proteas’ earlier knock was characterised by the withering stroke-play in roughly the first half of the allotted overs of known gunmen Quinton de Kock and AB de Villiers, who posted 79 runs for the second wicket at a whisker short of 10 to the over.

De Kock’s reputation as an opening batsman in both shorter-form arenas for the Proteas only swells and swells - his 59 followed innings of 168 not out, 46 and 73 in the ODIs - but it was educative that De Villiers looked so pulverisingly dangerous after taking guard pretty early in the six-over powerplay.

If it isn’t crystal clear by now that the veteran crowd-thriller must stay at No 3 in the T20 landscape, then maybe South Africa only deserve the strange under-delivery by his lofty standards we have seen from him, statistically, in the shortest game at international level.

Caught in the deep straight driving on 49 (27 balls) on Thursday, which probably spared the Bangladeshis an awful lot more trauma toward the back end of the SA knock, De Villiers has now come off in a meaningful way in all of his last three turns at the crease at “first drop”.

This score followed prior efforts of 65 not out (58 balls) against England at Southampton and 63 (44 deliveries) against Sri Lanka at Newlands.

As if to demonstrate the tactical dithering over where to station him, however, he has almost inexplicably also batted three times at No 4 in between.

Across 77 T20 internationals, De Villiers has been tried in all of berths one to six, and an extended run at No 3 just seems a blindingly obvious way to clear the fog from here.

The Proteas did develop a bit of a loose hubcap as they drove themselves onward after his departure right on completion of the 10th over, but Farhaan Behardien, another lengthy servant whose presence in the side is frequently questioned, powered them down the final straight with some refreshingly authoritative shots - including a lovely lofted cover-drive for six - en route to 36 not out at a strike rate of 200-plus.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  ottis gibson  |  ab de villiers  |  cricket


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