Sport

Cricket: South Africa off to a winning start in Sri Lanka

By Antoinette Muller 3 July 2014

South Africa won their warm-up match in Sri Lanka by over 100 runs. The three-match ODI series begins on Sunday. The series holds little relevance in the greater scheme of things, but at least it will offer superficial insight into how to go about building towards the World Cup. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

When it comes to warm-up matches before a tour, it’s best not to read too much into the results. Players, however, will tell you that there is no practice like match practice. It’s a good thing, then, that South Africa got some match practice ahead of their three-match ODI series in Sri Lanka. Thursday’s one-day match practice saw Hashim Amla scoring a century, while Morne Morkel took three wickets and every single bowler in the squad had a chance to bowl. South Africa won fairly easily, by 108 runs, against a Sri Lankan team which contained at least a handful of players they’re likely to tussle with in the full internationals.

“It was nice to pick up some batting time,” Amla said after the match. “Most of us (batsmen) that got in managed to spend some time at the crease. That is what warm-up games are about.”

“Personally it’s nice to get some runs ahead of the series,” Amla said. “The thinking ahead of the game was to try and get a few runs, retire out, then get the other batsmen in. After I reached my 50 I figured it was a good time to lift the scoring rate.”

“From a team perspective time on our legs was important,” Amla said. “A lot of the players who were involved in the IPL have been out for a month or so, it was good for them to get back into fielding for the whole day. Our 50 overs, along with the training sessions in the heat, are important in helping us acclimatise.”

Bilateral one-day series rarely have much context to them. The rankings in the shorter format of the game hardly matters and while series wins are celebrated, they do not hold any substance. But this is not just any ordinary year in cricket. It’s a year before a World Cup. While the squad is mostly refined, testing the depth is important, particularly in the spin department.

Imran Tahir, who went through somewhat of a second coming during the recent World T20, went wicketless, as did part-timer Duminy. Aaron Phangiso picked up two wickets for nine runs in his 2.2 overs and the seamers all shared the rest of the spoils.

However, Sri Lanka’s warm-up team had a tail which wagged, going from 98-8 to 189 all out. While some of that was down to everyone in the team getting a bowl (it is allowed in warm-ups, but means that the match will not hold List A status and records won’t count). Bowling consistently is key, but even with the reintroduction of Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Ryan McLaren, the Proteas could not crack the tail-end nut.

How much of that was down to South Africa’s inability to finish games off rather than Sri Lanka’s sheer-mindedness will remain to be seen.

On paper, South Africa’s batting unit should not be too troubled anywhere. Excluding Quinton de Kock, there are over 600 caps between the top order batsmen. The bulk of those caps belong to Jacques Kallis, who recently returned to the squad. He has made it clear that he remains hopeful of retaining a World Cup berth, but there are no guarantees. He did not play on Thursday, though, after suffering an injury during the warm-ups. Cricket South Africa advised that it was merely “precaution” and that they remained hopeful of his availability in the number three spot come the first one-day international on Sunday.

Over the last few months and under Russell Domingo’s leadership, the side has slowly started to move away from a floating order and started to build a more constructive unit where roles are very much defined.

Other than game time and testing combinations, captaincy is another key focal point. AB de Villiers has struggled to keep up with overrates in recent times, and some of his captaincy decisions have been questionable. It’s a chance for the skipper to prove that he is more than just the failures of his overrates.

In the greater scheme of things, the result of the three-match series will have little bearing on whatever happens for the World Cup anyway. Conditions will be completely different in Australasia and South Africa’s domestic season might have changed a few selection minds, too.

In context of the tour, the one-dayers are far more important for those who cross over into the Test domain. With Sri Lanka being the place South Africa last lost a Test series away from home and South African recently being toppled from their number one berth, the Test series holds far more water than the limited overs outing.

The one-day series should also serve to show the powers that be that, outside of a World Cup, one-day cricket needs context. Sure, the bilateral agreements work well for TV money and some sort of team building, but for viewers, the lack of context is a big deterrent. World Cups are still the ultimate prize for any team, but if cricket is to grow and prosper, its formats need to stop being so gallingly insular. DM

Result summary:

South Africans 297 for 9 (Amla 104, Duminy 54, Randiv 3-47) beat Sri Lanka Board President’s XI 189 (Randiv 53, Chandimal 50, Morkel 3-29) by 108 runs.

Photo: South Africa’s Hashim Amia acknowledges the crowd after scoring a century during day 3 of the third cricket test between Australia and South Africa at the WACA in Perth, Australia, 02 December 2012. EPA/THERON KIRKMAN

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