South Africa’s one-day team has struggled for success in the last few years. Forget choking - not even getting into a position to choke has bugged the Proteas for too long. Some of it could be down to players out of position; the rest is a symptom inherited from constant tinkering with the team. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
When a new coach inherits a team, he gets them warts and all. Russell Domingo has been handed a team ill with the impact of constant experimenting. During Gary Kirsten’s tenure, no fewer than 13 players were handed an ODI cap. Players were floated around the order and the makeup of the side has been chopped and changed so much that it is becoming almost unrecognisable.
That South Africa has to start looking at life after Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith and Dale Steyn is clear. While Smith has been forced out of the side through injury, he might not return again as the South African Test skipper looks to prolong his career in the longest format of the game. Kallis has always insisted that he harbours ambitions of winning a World Cup, but by the time the next one comes around, he’ll be almost 40. Not that there is anything wrong with playing into what is considered an “old’ age in cricket, but Kallis’ ambitions will always remain in the Test arena. Steyn, who has been blessed with an injury-free career, is starting to show signs of wear and tear. He is being carefully managed and South Africa has to admit it can no longer rely on him alone.
This leaves Domingo in a rather sticky position. He has to build a young team, keep faith in some players and deliver results all at the same time. Cricket fans are unforgiving. One blip and all hell breaks loose. The current tour of Sri Lanka has exposed all of the Proteas’ frailties. A stuttering middle order and a bowling attack which misfires more often than not has left them struggling to even compete against their hosts.
With the absence of Smith, the Proteas had to find a new opening combo for the tour. Alviro Petersen was tasked with that role, but failed. Despite a stellar run of form for his English county, Petersen failed in his quest in Sri Lanka. He didn’t pass 30 once in the three one-day games he played. The majority of his dismissals were as a result of impatience. Petersen has lost the firepower he once held as an opener in the shorter format of the game. It’s ironic that, for a player who can apply himself so astutely in the Test arena, Petersen’s adaption to one-day cricket has been a struggle. The other candidates, Colin Ingram and Quinton de Kock, have also failed to deliver. Ingram’s always been a hot and cold option at the top of the order, and while he might insist that he doesn’t mind opening, and can back it up with a few decent scores in that position, it’s not where he should be playing. In the five games he has opened the batting, he averages 19.80 and has managed just one 50. Anywhere between three and seven and his average jumps to 38.94. Batting at three or four, Ingram averages 39.62. Numbers aren’t everything, but they are there to ensure players deliver their optimum.
This does leave South Africa with an opening quandary. If Smith doesn’t return, which is likely, Hashim Amla will have to find a new partner at the top of the order. Of the current crop of players, nobody fits that bill. On the domestic front, Henry Davids is a possible solution. The Titans player managed 450 runs in 11 games in South Africa’s one-day competition. He averaged 40.90, with three fifties and one ton to his name, but Davids is already 33 – that’s young in normal terms, but old when it comes to building a team for the future. With seven one-day internationals against India coming up over the summer, it might be worth giving him a crack on home soil to see how he performs in the role.
Shifting Ingram to four is also an option, which could give De Villiers a bit more relief. While it’s still unclear whether De Villiers actually wants to persist in taking the gloves, captaincy has clearly had an impact on him. His average as captain (65.42) is still far higher than his overall average of 48.86, but a little bit of reprieve wouldn’t go amiss. De Villiers has been batting at number five, whilst captaining six times, and he averages 85.66 in those games.
The skipper’s captaincy overall has been unimpressive, but he’s not exactly had the best group of players to work with. Unlike his predecessor, Smith, De Villiers has had to contend with some vast inexperience.
Faf du Plessis’ performances in one-day cricket have been quite disappointing. He’s played 41 games and not once managed to register a hundred, despite notching up six fifties. He averages under 30, despite a List A average of 41.05. Year-on-year, his average has stagnated below 30, meaning he has never averaged above 29 in a year since making his debut.
Equally dubious is his running between the wickets. He is most vulnerable to getting out between 1 – 19, having been dismissed 18 times between those scores. Du Plessis is a talented cricketer and a magnificent fielder and he has applied himself very well in the Test arena, but after three years, he hasn’t quite delivered the goods in the one-day game.
While the South African batting line-up does boast with its fair share of talent, players have struggled to build an innings. The knee-jerk reaction, of course, would be that it’s all T20’s fault, but many of those who have struggled are esteemed Test players. The problem clearly isn’t that simple for the Proteas. No fewer than five players currently cross or previously have crossed the divide between Tests and one-day cricket. All of the players have played or currently play a substantial amount of first class cricket.
The problem has manifested itself simply because of the lack of consistency in selection and constant tinkering with the order of those selected. To build partnerships and be comfortable in batting positions takes time and many players in the side have not been afforded that luxury.
As for the bowlers, well, that’s something the coach needs to look at. Inconsistency has plagued the one-day side. While the totals they have been given to bowl at have been slim, their plans and execution have been poor. Statistics can only do so much for the bowlers; they need some coaching guidance.
Domingo’s challenge is not an easy one. He’ll need buckets of patience and to take a few risks to boot. Luckily for him, the domestic season is just around the corner, and those who have let him down so dismally can be carted back to school. DM
Photo: South Africa’s captain AB de Villiers walks off ground as the match was stopped due to rain during the second One Day International match against Sri Lanka in Colombo July 23,2013. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
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