The last time South Africa played New Zealand in a one-day series, they whitewashed them - and while the Black Caps were crushed in the Test series, just maybe they can bounce back using the fresh legs that were brought in for the three-match contest. By ANT SIMS.
South Africa’s performances in one-day cricket have been somewhat disappointing over the last few years. They’re not bad at it, but despite being ranked first, they’re not entirely good at it either. Not as good as they should be, anyway. Far too often have they started strong in a series only to limp out and draw – when they really should have won.
They did whitewash the Black Caps in the last ODI series they played against them, but a blip against Sri Lanka before that and a little bit of a stutter against England last year all culminated in some raised eyebrows.
Coach Gary Kirsten admitted on Thursday that one of the aims for the team for the year was to improve on their one-day performances, especially in a year packed with the format.
South Africa has a series against Pakistan coming up, a series away against Sri Lanka, the Champions Trophy in England and an away series against Pakistan, too. All of the contests are heavily lined with the one-day format and Kirsten reckons the extra focus has everybody a bit excited.
“We would like to perform at a higher level than we have,” a bullish Kirsten said.
“We have been okay, but we haven’t been outstanding yet, and we know that we are capable of being a unit that can perform at one-day level. We have a great opportunity this year because we have potentially 23 ODI matches, so there will be a lot more emphasis on ODI cricket, which I think everyone is excited about.”
There are some new faces sprinkled into the South African line-up, while the rest of the side is packed with the usual suspects.
De Villiers has never captained without the gloves and the South African one-day skipper is looking forward to having some more time to focus on simply being a captain.
“I think I’ll have more time to communicate more with the bowlers and even if we haven’t played in this format for a while, we’re professional and we know that the basics still stay the same and doing them well is important,” said de Villiers.
The South African batting order will continue to float and shift as it has in their last few games as the Proteas continue to try and find the right balance. Brendon McCullum, the New Zealand skipper, will meanwhile drop down to bat at number five.
This move allows him to play a more natural game, especially with the new ODI rule changes of two new balls up front and an extra man in the circle during Powerplays.
With older balls and a less restricted field, McCullum will be able to play attacking and aggressive cricket, the kind that can be so very threatening, and the kind of game he is far more accustomed to playing.
The traditional captains’ press conference yielded much of the same old clichés. Teams won’t take each other for granted, the sides really respect each other and the type of cricket they play, teams expect their opposition to come back strongly and they will both give it their all because they want the fans to be happy and their players to live up to their potential. The two skippers shook hands and exchanged some chit-chat while posing with forced smiles with a trophy in hand in front of an advertising back drop.
On paper, though, it should be an exciting series, even if it’s just three matches short. The Proteas and the Black Caps both have some young players to look forward to, and the one-day format can be a great leveller. Even if the visitors have lost their last five one-day matches, maybe, just maybe they can find a little tinge of fight.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
All eyes will be on rookie keeper Quinton de Kock and how he adjusted to the pace of international cricket in the 50-over game. That he is an enigma with the bat, there is no doubt, but whether the youngster can adjust to performing on the world stage and, more importantly, whether he can actually keep his cool.
Brendon McCullum played out of his natural game in the Test series and while it was good to watch, the New Zealand skipper in full aggressive form is an absolute delight. When he played against South Africa in New Zealand last year he managed scores of 56, 85 and 47, and while his form in ODI cricket has taken a nose dive since then, just maybe he can muster something from the grit he showed in the Tests.
Paarl should have a little bit of extra bounce for the bowlers, but with scorching heat expected, the pitch will still be good to bat on. If South Africa wins the toss and bats first it could be a high scoring affair. The other two games are day-night affairs, which makes things a bit trickier. Possibly thunderstorms in Kimberley could affect the way teams approach the match, while dew in Potchefstroom could make things rather interesting for the side batting second. DM
Photos: New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum plays a shot during the second day of their first cricket Test match against South Africa in Cape Town, January 3, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
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