Lost one, won one – a standard-issue Jekyll and Hyde performance. So much for South Africa’s talk of working on consistency. The only consistent thing was the team’s inconsistency in the last two one-day internationals against Pakistan. By ANT SIMS.
South Africa has swung between the extremes of total dominance and near invisibility in the space of a week. Despite all their mid-week talk of consistency, their performance from Friday to Sunday went from complete surrender to mind-blowing tricks on the field.
A rain-interrupted match on Friday saw the batting self-destruct and, save a fine knock from Farhaan Behardien – who hit 58 off 82 – and Robin Peterson, with his 44 off 67 – South Africa’s batsmen looked completely clueless as they ran into a fierce Mohammed Irfan. Irfan, in turn, managed to extract a whole lot of extra bounce from a pitch which had just a little bit of juice in it.
The batsmen embarrassingly slumped to 191 all, as even the experienced players simply couldn’t find a way to deal with the tricky bowling. Despite a long rain interruption and rather awful conditions to bowl in, the total simply wasn’t enough for the South Africans to defend. Even with Pakistan’s best efforts to implode, they managed a relatively easy four-wicket win while the hosts were left scratching their heads.
Lonwabo Tsotsobe upfront hardly looked threatening, and even with Dale Steyn back in the side, the Proteas looked like something was missing. All the talk of nailing yorkers had gone right out of the window as the bowlers simply couldn’t keep things tight enough to exert pressure onto Pakistan. While the bowling was potent in the first match, it had completely flopped in this one, and after a long night out in the field, the team had to go back and gather their thoughts with just a day’s break.
Sunday was a different kettle of fish for the South African batsmen. Despite Graeme Smith and Colin Ingram flopping, the rest seemed to have found their flourish – and Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers combined for a record-breaking 238-run stand, which was the highest for the third wicket in the history of the game. It was a spectacular innings from both batsmen: Amla played with his usual stealth, rocketing to 122 off 113 with the elegance and finesse expected of the world’s number one batsman. His chief lieutenant, De Villiers, captivated the audience with a magical flurry of shots and a tantalising selection of boundaries, while both remembered the art of rotating the strike.
A cameo from Faf du Plessis with 45 off 19 sealed a good day out in the middle for the South African batsmen as they posted 343-5 on their 50 overs. The timing of their acceleration was exquisite.
It seemed that, for a brief while, South Africa had mastered the art of switching between the formats and harnessing some of the batting prowess which made them so feared in the Test arena. The batsmen did their job and the bowlers now had to come to the party – but again, they couldn’t.
Mohammed Hafeez had a field day thanks to some horrific bowling which help him to 57 off 49, while his partners chipped in with a few handy runs and largely threw their wickets away.
A flurry from Shahid Afridi, with 88 off 48 – which included him once being dismissed off a no ball and a ball being hit out the ground – was more evidence that the bowlers still hadn’t figured out how to fight the pressure. To rely on Dale Steyn alone was grossly unfair, and while each player in the attack has done his bit on occasion, there seems to be no consistent plan in place.
It’s not as if they are short on talent; they are just short of ideas for execution. While the talk of yorkers is all good and well, it’s not the kind of delivery which will simply just appear. It takes a lot of effort and practice to perfect the art, and it seems as if the Proteas haven’t practised it enough yet – even in the face of stark evidence that persisting with the slower ball bouncers isn’t working.
Roles still seem to be undefined, and getting lengths right remains a major challenge. The rule of one-day cricket is simple: don’t lose your wicket. That does put enormous pressure on the bowlers, but taking that pressure and bowling smartly in order to ensure it’s transferred on the players out in the middle is something South Africa hasn’t got right yet.
Fittingly, the match ended with a yorker from Kleinveldt – a smash into Wahab Riaz’s stumps after he had scored 45. (This was his highest score in any short-format match and the highest for a number eight batsman in South Africa in an ODI: it beat the previous best of 43*, scored by Wasim akram 43* in East London back in 2002). With Pakistan needing 35 off 12, Kleinveldt managed to land what was possibly the only yorker of the match, and it immediately yielded a result and helped South Africa clinch a 34-run victory.
It’s unlikely that that kind of end will shake the bowlers into realising the impact a certain delivery can have, especially when running into a Pakistan side that just won’t back down. But at least it proves that those who keep on hailing delivery as the most important for any bowler aren’t completely crazy. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Ryan McLaren (L) attempts to run out Pakistan’s Wahab Riaz during their third One Day International (ODI) cricket match in Johannesburg, March 17, 2013. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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