Cape Town – The Proteas stubbornly fail to see the error of
their ways, it seems, in terms of the balance of their one-day international
It has been too apparent for months that they are short of
both resilience and firepower from smack in the middle of their batting order
downwards, and it proved seriously costly once again on Saturday as they
effectively rounded off a wretched weekend for South African sport with a good
old-fashioned “choke” – sorry, it really was one of those -- against Australia
in St Kitts.
This was a match in the triangular series they had made very
impressive strides toward winning, and instead of stamping their authority at
the top of the mini-table, they are suddenly the side arguably looking likeliest not to make the final at
their halfway point of round-robin clashes.
With just one win from three outings, it may serve AB de
Villiers and company best for the now-leading Aussies to beat West Indies
(currently one point behind SA with a game in hand) on Monday at the same venue
before targeting a win against the Caribbean outfit themselves on Wednesday,
ahead of the last leg of matches, all in Barbados.
But the Proteas will be kicking themselves after having
their great rivals by the short and curlies for generous portions of Saturday’s
tussle before crashing by 36 runs in pursuit of 289.
First they did an excellent, composed job in the field,
after David Warner’s authoritative century from the top of the Australian
order, to keep their opponents’ total to well within the 300-run mark on a good
Then there were several times during the reply when a
comfortable SA win, frankly, looked well on the cards as almost everyone in
their steely top five on paper made a fluent bid to tee up a favourable outcome
– even if you could protest that it needed at least of them to go well beyond a
best effort of 63 (the returning Faf du Plessis) and ideally be there at or
very near the finish.
The Proteas were 140 for one at a healthy rate of knots at
one point, and later 177 for two at the start of the 32nd over … so
three times out of four, you would expect a team with at least a moderately
good middle- to lower-order to get over the line from there even with most
heavyweight batting specialists back in the hut.
Quite simply, though, South Africa don’t have that
acceptably adhesive level of batting from No 6 down (the berth where Farhaan
Behardien, who seems to make a living out of flirting with the axe but usually
avoiding it, returned to under-delivering ways after his vitally intelligent
innings against the very same Australians in Guyana).
Most of the other stronger nations in the 50-overs landscape
are also considerably better served statistically with the willow in the often
key “finishing” areas of Nos 7 and 8 than the Proteas are through Wayne Parnell
– he has some crease talent, but sadly just not the ODI figures to back up that
theory – and Kyle Abbott.
This was the second game in three where the SA bottom-end
batting has bombed rather abjectly, following the spectacular collapse to the
wiles of Sunil Narine and company in the first game at Providence Stadium.
It is one thing to say that the cream of the Proteas’
batsmen need to overwhelmingly do the job, but by their very nature ODIs are a
game of risks – far more so than at Test level – and it naïve to think top
orders will consistently come off in a major way.
With this SA team, it is a cold fact that if the enemy
attack nips out two or three frontline batsmen fairly quickly, they instantly
smell blood because they are all too aware that a fearfully long tail is about
to be summoned to duty.
Look at it this way: Australia had a proper all-rounder at
No 8 on Saturday, in the shape of James Faulkner (874 ODI runs at 39.72). South
Africa, with due respect to his bowling abilities, had Abbott (76 ODI runs at
The present Proteas line-up has a main batting division
brimful of ability to about No 5 – but then it tapers off extremely violently,
and we keep getting costly confirmation of that.
Remembering that this is broadly a batman’s game anyway, and
even specialist bowlers can take awful ODI poundings without necessarily deserving
them at times, it seems as clear as crystal that SA are going to have to
compromise on out-and-out bowling depth to somehow make provision for a
steelier batting presence in the two or three slots immediately below five in
It isn’t easy with the limited on-tour squad resources at
their disposal, but a start might be to play both Parnell and Chris Morris (he
has had a niggle or two, though) in the next game against the Windies, ensuring
a slightly trimmed tail, or to work the batsman who has just arrived as
replacement for Rilee Rossouw, Dean Elgar, into the XI.
Elgar is a gritty little cricketing package, and barmier
things have happened than, for example, to get him to share a “fifth bowler”
quota with JP Duminy – a little improved on that front on Saturday – and
That elongated tail? It has got to be sorted; it is the
team’s major Achilles’ heel.
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