Sport

Cricket: South Africa’s lost art of death bowling

By Antoinette Muller 27 August 2014

South Africa cruised to an emphatic seven-wicket win in their opening tri-series fixture against Australia on Wednesday. Faf du Plessis notched up his maiden century and AB de Villiers chipped in with a ton of his own, but the bowling, particularly at the death, left much to be desired. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

It’s a good thing South Africa’s batsmen were so industrious in their clash against Australia on Wednesday, because their bowlers certainly didn’t help the cause. South Africa, having elected to field first, chased down 328 runs in Harare with ease. Faf du Plessis scored his maiden ODI century, while AB de Villiers returned to his freakish form with an unbeaten 136.

It is significant that South Africa won chasing a total and that they opted to do so. The pitch looked to have plenty in it, especially on a bright, sunny day in Zimbabwe, but South Africa’s chasing record has left much to be desired over the last few months. Prior to this result, eight of the last 10 matches have seen them chasing. Against an Australian attack with the likes of Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc, it was a significant step forward in their World Cup preparation.

At the centre of the chase was Du Plessis. He was fantastically pragmatic, and while he more often than not looks like he’s going slowly, he timed his innings on Wednesday to perfection. The tandem with AB de Villiers saw the pair manage a record 206-run stand for the third wicket. It was the highest score for the third wicket at the ground and also South Africa’s second-highest since January 2012. In fact, it was the first time since March 2013 that a South African pair managed over 200 runs in a partnership. As far as perfect innings go, this was right up there.

Du Plessis is blossoming in the number three spot, proving that he is adaptable, and while some of his shots were aided by Australia’s poor bowling, his shot selection and ability to find the gaps was scintillating. Australia will probably be feeling a bit shell-shocked. South Africa looked like they could have pulled off another chase of 435. Despite a rare failure from Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock, two other players simply stepped up, but fortunately they are under no illusions that they were left lacking in some areas.

“I got my first Test hundred against Australia, and to get my one-day hundred as well, I’m very happy. I’m happy I got the opportunity to bat at three, and it’s important for me to get those hundreds. The chase was a great effort, but [there are] a lot of areas we can improve on,” Du Plessis said afterwards.

One of those areas is bowling, particularly in the latter part of the innings. It’s not a new beast for South Africa. In their recently-concluded ODI series, the last five overs in the third ODI against Zimbabwe yielded 42 runs. In the second, it was 36. Both times, these runs came from the tail-enders with the opposition eight or nine wickets down. The cut-throat killing instinct seemed to be absent and it was more of the same against the Aussies.

Against Australia on Wednesday, South Africa conceded 98 in the last ten overs and 62 runs in the last five. They took four wickets in that ten-over period, but that only enhances the deficiency. How can new batsmen, tail-enders who are unsettled, be allowed to score so freely and with such great ease?

The absence of yorkers has plagued modern cricket in recent years. Slower ball bouncers are preferred, because the risk involved is perhaps somewhat less. Get a yorker wrong and you are toast. Yet it’s the kind of delivery that can be practised to perfection, but few teams spend significant time on it these days, perhaps because the risk is so high. It’s an approach that has cost many teams as one-day cricket has progressed.

Currently, South Africa lacks a true death bowling specialist. Steyn is good, but he lacks back-up. A player like Kyle Abbott would fill that void and South Africa would do well to experiment with him in that position. Wayne Parnell was particularly wayward on Wednesday, not just at the death but overall. Since undergoing a run-up re-adjustment, there has been some hope that he might finally fulfil his potential and, as a left-armer, he certainly adds something extra. However, he’s not quite lived up to the hype. It would be a great shame for Abbott to miss out on a World Cup berth, but that is the purpose of this tri-series. South Africa’s next challenge is against Zimbabwe, and Abbott should be given a chance, even if the opposition is somewhat weaker. Abbott needs time to refine his skills at international level, and there is no better time than the present. DM

Scorecard summary:

South Africa won by seven wickets

Australia: 327-7 (Aaron Finch 102, George Baiely 66; Imran Tahir 10-0-45-2)

South Africa: (Faf du Plessis 106, AB de Villiers 136*; Mitchell Starc 8-0-62-2)

Photo: South Africa’s Wayne Parnell makes a delivery during the One-Day International (ODI) against Pakistan at Centurion November 30 2013 REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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