The Proteas went from “what on earth are they doing?” to “please keep doing that!” in the space of just a few days, as they beat Pakistan by 67 runs in Birmingham on Monday. Lonwabo Tostsobe was particularly impressive and stood out as the fine leader of a depleted attack. ANTOINETTE MULLER reports from Birmingham.
If you’re one for omens, then the match between South Africa and Pakistan at Edgbaston on Monday would have had you feeling just a little bit green. It was this venue, almost exactly 14 years ago, where the Proteas first came to grief. It was bad luck which would follow them to ICC tournaments across the world and strangle the air out of their windpipes at any given opportunity – it was here where that semi-final against Australia turned them into the perennial chokers and started a phenomenon which would befuddle many for years to come.
With a mounting casualty list, and having just lost against India, mostly thanks to some pitiful bowling, the Proteas were underdogs heading into the game, but they applied themselves brilliantly in almost all aspects and came out top to ensure their chance of qualification for the semi-finals at the ICC Champions Trophy remained feasible.
The demons might not be exorcised just yet, but a 67-run win over Pakistan will certainly stand the Proteas in good stead with their final match against the West Indies beckoning in Cardiff on Friday. They’ll keep a beady eye on other results, but no matter what happens, they can give themselves a pat on the back for having improved so vastly and so quickly when nearly everybody expected them to flop.
Winning the toss and choosing to bat first under cloudy skies might have seemed somewhat confusing at first, but AB de Villiers has become a wily old fox in his short tenure as captain, and although he couldn’t have known what to expect with a string of inexperienced bowlers against a Pakistan side who, on their day, can chase down any total posted, he played to his strengths.
The decision paid off. Hashim Amla, even if still slightly out of touch, along with Colin Ingram, survived the barrage of the two new balls up front with relative ease. On a Velcro-like surface and with clouds overhead, offering the fierce Pakistan bowlers plenty, the opening pair looked astute in their resilience.
Although Ingram managed just 20, he survived alongside Amla for 14.1 overs, ensuring that the worst of the wear had been taken off the ball. The rest of the batting line-up would struggle equally, with nobody else managing more than 31, and four dodgy run-outs accounting for a lowly total of 234-9. Amla, however, stood out, and added 81 off 97 before a grotesque reverse sweep off Saeed Ajmal led to his undoing.
Running between the wickets has not been South Africa’s forte of late, and whether that’s simply culminating pressure from being in an ICC event or just a little bit of rust which needs to be shaken off, luckily it didn’t matter on Monday.
With a low total on the board, but a wearing pitch to play with, it was time for the bowlers to show their worth. Lonwabo Tsotsobe in particular had a lot to prove. With no Morne Morkel or Dale Steyn to hide behind, he had to step up and lead the attack. Tsotsobe had to assume responsibility and return to his former, devastating self. And he did.
Tsotosbe rarely missed his lines and lengths on Monday, and he looked like a senior member of the attack, creating and building up the pressure to allow debutant Chris Morris to dismantle the top order first up. It was a spell of bowling nearly as good as Steyn and Morkel could have put together, and the Protea bowlers had gone from not having a Plan B in their first match, to having a plan for every hoick, cut and drive Pakistan had to offer. Tsotsobe finished with figures of 9-1-23-2 and topped his performance off with a fantastic bit of fielding – not his forte, really.
With Rory Kleinveldt dropped from the side, Aaron Phangiso finally got a chance to prove himself, and even if he managed just one wicket in his 10-over spell, he looked every bit the international bowler he could be.
Morris had a dream debut, finishing with figures of 7-0-25-2 to help his side secure a win, and Ryan McLaren continued to show that, in the absence of Kallis, he is a fine replacement. The right-armer mopped up Pakistan with a late burst which earned him four wickets for just 19 runs.
The Proteas can celebrate for a while – they certainly deserve to, but they should not rest on their laurels. There is still a challenge ahead for them, and they now have to find a way to fire on all cylinders and get all of their departments to click. If they can manage that and do that for the rest of the tournament, well, then their future looks pretty bright.
South Africa 234/9 (50 overs)
Pakistan 167 (45.0 overs)
South Africa won by 67 runs DM
Photo: Pakistan’s Nasir Jamshed leaves the field after being dismissed during the ICC Champions Trophy group B match against South Africa at Edgbaston cricket ground in Birmingham, England June 10, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown
While we have your attention...
An increasingly rare commodity, quality independent journalism costs money - though not nearly as much as its absence.
Every article, every day, is our contribution to Defending Truth in South Africa. If you would like to join us on this mission, you could do much worse than support Daily Maverick's quest by becoming a Maverick Insider.
Click here to become a Maverick Insider and get a closer look at the Truth.
"Ah coffee. The sweet balm by which we shall accomplish today's tasks." ~ Holly Black