South Africa begin their five-match ODI series against Pakistan on Wednesday and if they’re hoping to make up for some of their failures of the past few months, a flat track in the desert is the best place to start. It’s the batting that’s been letting them down and they’ve turned to Gary Kirsten for some help. BY ANTOINETTE MULLER.
If the South African Test team is a Ferrari, then the one-day side is an old, clunky station wagon. It’s been around the block a few times, but it’s starting to backfire on the mornings when it matters. Still, when you give it a little push, it will get you where you need to be. Said station wagon has also been sent away for a few modifications over the last few months, a lick of paint here, a new exhaust there and perhaps a new battery for good measure. Those modifications haven’t always worked, but at least you’re able to spot where the fault lies.
For South Africa, the only thing that’s been consistent about the one-day team has been their failures over the last few months. While Gary Kirsten was in charge, the team was “in a transitional phase” with constant changes to squad members, batting orders, bowling line-ups and even captains in an attempt to find some sort of salvation as the next generation of cricketers started to pop their heads through the open window.
In the last year, South Africa have won just seven of the 18 ODIs they have played. Percentage-win wise, and from the top eight Test playing nations, only New Zealand and the West Indies have a poorer record. The Black Caps have managed wins in just six of their 16 games and the Windies woeful nine out of 25. When the one-day squad is assessed on paper, those results read even worse. South Africa’s line-up is littered with talent. From Hashim Amla to AB de Villiers as well as Graeme Smith, Dale Steyn and Robin Peterson – the squad really should do better than their numbers suggests.
The bowlers have managed to take ten wickets five times in their 18 games and managed eight or more a further five times. Although they have, at times, been expensive, conceding 250-plus nine times, the fault has rarely lain with them. Instead, it’s the batting which has struggled to cope, to click, to gel – take your pick of the clichés. Just four scores of 300-plus in 18 games should tell a story in itself, but add to that the failure to bat out an innings on eight occasions and the weakness has become pretty clear.
South Africa know they are on the wrong side of the willow and have called on former head coach Kirsten to assist them as a “batting mentor”. It’s not that new coach Russell Domingo is admitting defeat, it’s rather that South Africa are using their resources cunningly. Right from the start it was always suggested that Kirsten would still be involved with the team in some sort of capacity and now they’ve found a way to blend Domingo’s tactical nous with Kirsten’s know-how. He’s a World Cup winning coach, after all, not to make use of him would be foolish.
Their first one-day game of the five-match series is against Pakistan on Wednesday at the Sharjah. The track is expected to be flat which will be a boost for any of the batsmen who have been slightly low on confidence. Graeme Smith is back at the top of the order, but doubts remain over Hashim Amla’s participation as his wife is yet to give birth. Colin Ingram, the current leading run-scorer in the Momentum One Day Cup is on standby should Amla finally be sent on daddy duty. Ingram has raced to 286 runs in four games at an average of 95.33 with his efforts having helped the Warriors nudge into second place.
This year’s domestic one-day competition has been ideally set-up to give some of South Africa’s non-Test players the ideal kind of prep ahead of a tough series. Another Warriors player, Wayne Parnell, has been honing is all-rounder skills in the competition. He took six wickets in the opening game of the season and followed it up by scoring a ton opening the batting against the Lions. Parnell’s lower-order hitting prowess and his left arm seam will be seriously tested in the sub-continental conditions, but by his side will be an old mentor in Vincent Barnes. Barnes, who is with the side while Allan Donald is away on a leave of absence, has worked extensively with Parnell at the High Performance Centre and in the A-team set ups to help the quick refine his craft. He may have once looked innocuous, but Parnell has come a long way in the last few years and could very well pip Ryan McLaren to the starting line-up. McLaren’s been batting well in the one-day competition, scoring 186 runs at an average of 62.00, but his bowling has left much to be desired: he’s been largely expensive and only picked up five wickets in four games. There is no Dale Steyn for the first two games as he is being rested as a precautionary measure following a string of injuries. Morne Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe will lead the attack
With batting the key focus, though, a beady eye will be kept on David Miller, the hard-hitting Dolphins man who has been in feisty form in the off season. Although he didn’t blow anybody’s socks off during South Africa’s recent tour of Sri Lanka, he’s managed impressive scores of 76 unbeaten and 96 unbeaten in the domestic competition and if he can carry some of that form to the international stage, there might be hope for South Africa.
As has been the case for much of the last 18 months, South Africa continue their search for stability and reliability in the one-day format. Some of that will come through the return of some of their mainstay players, the rest will have to come from youngsters with the belief that they can make a difference and who want to prove their place in the team. DM
Photo: Wayne Parnell, has been honing is all-rounder skills in the competition. (REUTERS/Nigel Marple)
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