Sport

Strength in depth: Amla and McLaren seal SA’s emphatic win

By Antoinette Muller 17 August 2014

South Africa recorded a massive 93-run one-day win over Zimbabwe in Bulawayo on Sunday. It never looked like stuttering and now they have just one day to prepare for the next outing, as they go full steam ahead to building for the World Cup in 2015. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

Early in his career, Hashim Amla was thought not capable of adjusting to limited overs cricket. Since then, he has become the fastest to 2,000, 3,000 and 4,000 runs in one-day internationals. On Sunday, with his third century in four games, Amla also became the fastest to 15 centuries in the format. No matter how hard you look, it is difficult to find flaws in Amla’s game. While there have been a few struggles against left-arm quicks, everyone is running out of superlatives to describe his current purple patch.

An unbeaten 122, notched up in fine tandem fashion thanks to support from Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis, set the foundation for the visitors. Accumulating 309 runs in their 50 overs, a target which exceeded their expectations, South Africa’s batsmen gave their rookie bowlers something to work with. While it is strange to see an attack without Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel or Vernon Philander, the second-string bowlers showed that there was strength in depth for this South African team.

Everything that happens in Zimbabwe over the next few weeks will shape perceptions as World Cup preparation switches to high gear. Time in the middle, especially when it comes to chasing totals, will be as important as players putting up their hands to be the “X-Factor” player during the world tournament next year.

From a batting perspective, there is little concern for South Africa. The Amla-De Kock tandem works like clockwork. Amla is the steady, calm and cool side of it while De Kock muscles and grinds his way through the runs at whichever pace he pleases. Faf du Plessis, coming in to fill the vacant number three slot left by Kallis, played a steady knock on Sunday, despite the fact that he averages just over 28 in the format.

De Villiers has had a few blips lately, but it’s hardly cause for concern. The lower order didn’t face any real test on Sunday, but Duminy showed that he was able to up the scoring rate in the last ten overs. South Africa consistently scored at almost over 10 runs an over for the last 10. Sure, it was “only Zimbabwe”, but it’s the kind of practice that will stand them in good stead later on.

Kyle Abbott bowled with good pace and, most impressively, a consistent line which offered Zimbabwe’s batsmen very little room to play. Wayne Parnell has gas but still struggles with some inconsistency and Ryan McLaren continues to show that he is one of the most underrated assets of this one-day team. He only took one wicket, but he was superbly economical.

Since January 2013, McLaren has been sublime. He is the leading wicket-taker for South Africa in one-day cricket, with 55 wickets at an average of 22.00 in 31 games. That run includes five four-wicket hauls with three of them coming away from home. He might not be the X-Factor, but McLaren has proven that he is South Africa’s Mr. Reliable, even in the absence of some of their stalwarts.

When ignoring the bigger picture, this one-day series against Zimbabwe might not look like it means much. But think back to just two years ago, and the pieces start to fall into place. Two years ago, South Africa sent a second-string team to Zim for an unofficial T20 series and were beaten by both Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. That very same series was in the build-up to another ICC event, the World T20. While the World Cup is still a good few months away and South Africa still have plenty of cricket to come, the impact of this series cannot be underestimated. For all intents and purposes, a 93-run win is emphatic and convincing and South Africa could easily have taken their foot off the gas at any point on Sunday. They didn’t, and now need to build from that. If the purpose of this series is to iron out some creases, it might be worth South Africa’s while to put themselves in positions where they are uncomfortable. Should they win the toss in the next match, it might be worth putting themselves in to bowl first to see how they fare when chasing against “weaker” opposition. They have won just one of the nine ODIs in which they have batted second, something which clearly needs some assessment. Other things to consider will be giving the reserve rookies a look in, but that might only be done once the series result is buried. For now, there is a foundation set and South Africa can pick and choose what they build on it. DM

Scorecard summary:

South Africa 309 for 3 (Amla 122*, de Kock 63, Nyumbu 2-52) beat Zimbabwe 216 (Masakadza 61, Phangiso 3-43) by 93 runs

Photo: South Africa’s batsman Hashim Amla is seen during his fifth and final one day international cricket match against India at Super Sport Park Stadium in Centurion, January 23, 2011. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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