SA in West Indies

SA take baby steps ahead

2010-05-21 10:53
Ryan McLaren (Gallo)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – You’d have to stop a long way short of saying that South Africa are suddenly a well-greased machine in Twenty20 international cricket again.

Same tatty shirts (though hopefully replacements are in speed-post transit), same conspicuous jitters in certain regions of the batting order, same salvoes of strangely comedic incompetence in the field.

But at least they have rediscovered a winning feeling – even if a 2-0 “sweep” over clueless West Indies in a T20 mini-series is hardly cause for a national holiday to be proclaimed back home – and good on them for that.

They finished the job, just, in sneaking home by one run in the second encounter at the Sir Vivian Richards stadium in Antigua on Thursday.

With the games played back to back on the same, patience-straining swine of a pitch at the venue, the environment was a significant leveller and on that basis alone, Graeme Smith’s side deserve some kudos for the achievement.

Defending a humble 120 has got to be done, as they say, and fortunately the bowling department has been the one area of play this week where the Proteas have mostly looked a genuinely top-tier side.

They improved their depth into the bargain, with Ryan McLaren and (at least in his initial spell on Thursday) Lonwabo Tsotsobe putting their hands up.

What the attack lacked in discipline in the first match, it corrected fairly solidly in the second -- even if the margin of victory was much narrower -- and players like Morne Morkel and Johan Botha re-announced themselves as viable competitors in the international limited-overs arena.

Off-spinner Botha, who keeps showing commendable resolve not to buckle under the scrutiny his action occasionally generates, had a lucrative couple of days, with series figures of 8-0-41-5 and an economy rate of 5.12.

Treacherous track for the batsmen or not, that is a fine return and he has opened up a gap now on Roelof van der Merwe and others as the country’s first-choice spinner in one-day cricket.

Botha also showed up well at the crease in the second fixture, helping debutant David Miller post an important 57 runs to give the total a hint of security that proved sufficient in the end.

I liked 20-year-old Miller’s body language: he hardly looked gripped by butterflies, presented a broad blade from the outset and demonstrated his bums-on-seats potential (those “bums” were disappointingly lacking again at North Sound) with two decisively-cracked sixes.

The hazards the pitch presented were reflected in the fact that, in South Africa’s innings, they registered more sixes (five) than they did fours (four).

The two-step down the track when possible was certainly the likeliest avenue for earning boundaries and the ICC really needs to be more vigilant in ensuring tracks are friendlier for batting in the T20 arena than this wretched one.

Although they would all give an arm and a leg for a true surface somewhere, anywhere, the Proteas’ batting remains a work in progress, to put it extremely politely.

Unsubtle Loots Bosman failed again at the top end, and with Test opener Alviro Petersen floating loosely and confusingly in the middle or even lower-middle order, the jigsaw is presently missing some pieces under the settee.

JP Duminy’s ongoing doldrums is a mounting cause for concern, especially as the West Indies’ faster bowlers had done some homework (not a characteristic more broadly applicable to their 2010 team, it must be said) and targeted his short-ball discomfort on the two-paced track.

You fancy that some Rahul Dravid-like serenity and orthodoxy would not go amiss near the front of the Proteas order right now, and hopefully with Jacques Kallis back from minor injury and Hashim Amla now in the region of swaying palms and sparkling seas, the tourists’ batting will find necessary equilibrium as hostilities move into fuller ODI mode on Saturday …


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