Cape Town – South Africa received their overdue correction
in the results column on Wednesday … but perhaps also unearthed yet another
all-rounder who will stick up his hand vigorously for ICC Champions Trophy
squad selection in mid-year.
It wasn’t a disaster from a Proteas perspective that New
Zealand levelled the five-match one-day international series 1-1, courtesy of a
six-run triumph in Christchurch.
In some senses, you might say the tourists experienced a bit
of mental pressure-relief, as the outcome signalled the end of their 12-strong
run of victories in the format.
It put paid to their bid to be the standalone best South
African team of all time for consecutive wins, an achievement they must now
share with an earlier outfit under Graeme Smith’s charge in the mid-2000s who also
sported a dozen uninterrupted triumphs.
While they have seldom given the impression of complacency
along the way – if anything, they nearly snatched game two against the Black
Caps bravely from the fire after a heavier setback had looked likely – the outcome
gives AB de Villiers and company the opportunity to breathe again, and engage
in a bit of constructive introspection with that ICC tournament in June in
There was always the risk of their peaking too soon, and for
now they can simply focus anew on the shorter-term target of just sharpening up
suitably to beat tough nuts New Zealand in this already ding-dong series.
Hostilities shift to Wellington’s Westpac Stadium on
Saturday (a slightly kinder start of 03:00 SA time, for TV-watching fans back home)
for the key middle fixture, and the Proteas are sure to want to be able to
reinstate main strike bowler Kagiso Rabada to the XI.
He sat out the Hagley Oval clash with a reported “knee
niggle” and his rare absence may have gone some way to explaining why the host
nation were able to post a commanding total of 289, batting first on a slow but
generally trustworthy track, for the loss of only four wickets with
century-making stalwart Ross Taylor to the fore.
One man Rabada almost certainly won’t be replacing on
Saturday, however, is Dwaine Pretorius, the least internationally-experienced
of a large touring cupboard of all-rounders.
The Lions player, 27, chose his sixth ODI appearance to be
his most impressive thus far, and there was a strong case for arguing that he
was the most incisive South African with both bat and ball on the day.
First he bowled an admirably disciplined full 10-over stint
of his wicket-to-wicket, medium-fast fare for the concession of just 40 runs,
and grabbed half of the wickets to fall (Dean Brownlie and Neil Broom).
It was Pretorius’s second genuinely eye-catching bowling
performance in three ODIs, as it was only some two and a half weeks ago that he
had grabbed figures of 7-2-19-3 against Sri Lanka at his familiar Wanderers.
But then his skills with the willow also came into play, at
a time when the Proteas looked as though they might go down by a particularly
clear-cut margin, partly due to the unusual failure of any of their frontline
batsmen to kick on fully from promising starts.
Instead the Randfontein-born customer induced a discernible
element of panic in the Black Caps’ ranks as he lashed a maiden half-century –
just his second turn at the ODI crease – from the No 7 berth in the closing
stages, mixing pure intelligence of shot selection with some spirited heaves
for fours or sixes in an eventful 27-ball vigil.
Wayne Parnell, one of the all-rounders vying with Pretorius
and others for a regular spot, now looks the likeliest sacrifice for Wellington
if changes are indeed made to the combination; he continues to underwhelm
despite his considerably superior experience at Proteas level.
Speaking of prolifically-capped players, middle-order
strokeplayer JP Duminy is another just starting to recede worryingly again in
“delivery” terms; he hasn’t played an innings of any real consequence for South
Africa in more than a month.
Duminy was looking fairly threatening on 34 at Hagley Oval,
when he frustratingly succumbed to an untimely stumping.
He is fortunate, arguably, that the current SA squad isn’t
exactly loaded with alternative options in specialist batting – there is only the
oft-maligned Farhaan Behardien wearing the reserve bib on that front.
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