Gone are the days when players would just hit the nets and bowl five overs. South Africa are taking a progressive approach in the shorter format of the game and are searching for a brand of cricket to make their own. By ANT SIMS.
If you asked any old armchair cricketer what the South African cricket team’s “identity” is in the one-day format, chances are you’ll get the response that they’re chokers. Nearly-men, with a wealth of talent, who just aren’t good enough to get over the line in major tournaments, despite being able to apply themselves constantly in other thrilling and pressure situations.
The team has gone through some serious changes over the last few months with a whole host of new caps ushered into the side, some with great success, others with utter failure. In clichéd terms, it’s what is known as a “transitional phase” in sport. Some of the old guard have gone, some have been cast aside and this leaves the team with a volatile ebb and flow of vastly experienced veterans and complete rookies.
Farhaan Behardien is one of those rookies, in the one-day side anyway. He’s an experienced campaigner on the domestic circuit with nearly 100 List A games to his name and over 60 T20 matches. Behardien has paid his dues and is now reaping the rewards for his exploits on the domestic circuit. He’s played just three ODIs for South Africa and admits that every player coming through the revolving door is trying to cement his place in the team.
“I think it’s a transition. Every player who comes into the team is looking for a player to cement the spot in the team,” Behardien said.
He hit 34 off just 14 against Pakistan in the first ODI on Sunday, something which might have gone some way in helping him put his name on the team sheet without management thinking twice when the second ODI starts on Friday, but the 29-year old says he’s quite happy to have the backing of the whole team in order to go out and play his natural game.
“We get backed to express ourselves and we are supported if we don’t come off, because it won’t come off all the time. We have the backing of the management, players and the captain to play that role,” Behardien said.
While there is no special formula for any one player to make things work, Behardien says timing the acceleration of an innings is something which has worked for him, but admits that one has to be able to adjust according to the situation, especially against highly skilled bowlers like Umar Gul.
“Timing of acceleration is key and it’s taken me a while to find the formula, even if it’s not cast in stone. You have to play the situation. At international level, the bowlers have a lot more skill.”
Behardien also believes that times are changing in the South African camp and the team is moving away from the predictable conservatism that once characterised the side. South Africa are looking to find a brand of cricket which suits them and being fierce is certainly in their sights.
“We want to take the ball forward in white-ball cricket. In the past we’ve been quite conservative, but it’s quite a busy year for us. We want to try and establish a one-day and T20 culture. We want to try and do things a little bit different and find something we can call our own. Being attacking is one of those philosophies,” said Behardien.
One way of being so fiercely attacking is by perfecting the art of a yorker. This is something bowling coach Allan Donald wants to see his charges improve on. Gone are the days of just banging in five overs in the nets; the Proteas now focus on creating game scenarios in training to help them prepare better.
“We’ve gone away from having normal nets sessions where guys go and just bowl their five overs. We’re moving more towards scenarios and executing skills under pressure,” Donald revealed.
“Death bowling is something we want to be concentrating on massively. We try to do that with a batting strip and monitor it very carefully. We video the sessions, too. We want a collective group of guys who, if they are thrown the ball, they can execute yorkers at will at any stage.”
Donald insists that he needs a group of players who can bowl the yorker when they’re called upon, instead of simply relying on a strike bowler like Dale Steyn to do the damage.
“If Dale’s number is up at one day, we will need somebody else to do it. We’re looking for a collective upskill in bowling yorkers. I think that’s been our let- down a little bit in the past, especially when defending a total. We’re also practicing with a ball that is reversing and one that’s not reversing, but nailing yorkers is our number one priority.” DM
Photo: South Africa’s Hashim Amla (R) makes a run with his teammate Graeme Smith during their one-day international cricket match against Pakistan in Bloemfontein March 10, 2013. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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