On Sunday, South Africa will head back to where they ended off their epic Test series against England, only this time, they’ve swapped their Test matches whites for some colourful pyjamas. But much like when they last visited the Home of Cricket, England is back at the top of the world rankings and the Proteas will have to put foot in order to snatch the honours again. By ANT SIMS.
Nobody knows why, but the one-day series seems to be a ‘to you, to me’ between the two top-ranked sides in the world, and instead of waiting until all the 50 overs-kerfuffle is done with, every time a match is played in the five-match series, somebody else goes to the top. And then it gets mentioned in keeping with the utter ridiculousness that is one-day cricket.
It’s impossible to avoid clichés at this point, so the tussle for the top will resume on Sunday at Lord’s – a ground where South Africa has played just two one-day internationals and hasn’t managed a single victory. It’s been a tour of firsts for the Proteas, though, and if they can manage to pull themselves out of the whimpering mess England turned them to on Friday, they can add another first to their impressive tally.
Losing momentum after a good run in Tests has been common for South Africa, and while their current tour of England has been somewhat similar to their trip here in 2008 – with the emphatic series win and another English captain resigning – they need to break the hoodoo of losing a one-day series against England after putting in an impressive run in the Test series.
The Proteas just haven’t been able to find that killer instinct that was so prominent when they beat England in the Tests. And while Gary Kirsten has done wonders for the Test side, he might need some more time with the youngsters of the pyjama crew before he can turn them into the ruthless and relentless group of soldiers the Test team resembles.
With the series all square at one-all, the Proteas face a bit of a conundrum. Changing their team with a crucial match to play would be somewhat silly, yet those players who have been touted as promising have failed to deliver when it matters most. Justin Ontong has had a few good knocks with the bat recently and might be an option lower down the order, but to fiddle too much with the balance would be a mistake – one that Gary Kirsten won’t make.
Whatever happens on Sunday, this whole one-day series has felt somewhat pointless and laboured. It could be a sign of the times – as Twenty20 cricket continues to keep those with short attention spans entertained for brief bursts of hit and giggle and Test cricket continues to weave complex tapestries when two of the world’s best sides meet, one-day cricket is starting to feel like that old dog you want to take out the back door and put out of its misery. It could also be that most people feel the recently concluded series probably needed an extra Test and it could have easily been slotted in if it weren’t for five one-day internationals being lumped in the middle of the tour.
Players to watch
AB de Villiers: De Villiers is a fantastically adaptable batsman, and while he was in superb form prior to the England series, he hasn’t quite been able to tee off just yet. It could be that the pressures of keeping, now in Tests too, and captaining the shorter format teams is finally weighing in. Or it could simply be a bit of a mental block. De Villiers thrives under pressure and Sunday will be a good test.
Alastair Cook: Cook’s form over the last few months has been quite up and down. He scored a magnificent ton against the West Indies at The Oval in June and followed it up with a nifty 58 against Australia about a month later, but, as his South African contemporary, the one-day skipper just hasn't quite gotten out of the blocks on this tour. The Lord’s pitch should have plenty to offer for the batsmen and if Cook is looking to cash in, there’s no better chance than this. DM
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