South Africa continues its World Cup preparation when the team begins a three-match ODI series tour against New Zealand starting next week. There are a few creases to iron out, but fortunately for the Proteas, they still have time on their side. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
South Africa might not be grouped with New Zealand or Australia in their 2015 World Cup pool, but the Proteas will play the two teams in three and five ODIs respectively over the course of the next month.
In New Zealand, they will play just one of their ODIs at a venue which will feature in their World Cup campaign. South Africa play New Zealand at Seddon Park in the final match of the tour and will play Zimbabwe at the same venue during their World Cup opener.
From there, they move on to Australia to play in Perth, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney, all grounds which will be visited during their World Cup group matches.
Arguably, then, the Australian leg is the more important part of the tour, since the team will be able to gather far greater intel there than in New Zealand. AB de Villiers, however, sees the exercise somewhat differently.
“The most important thing is to get a bit of confidence over there against two teams I see as a threat in the World Cup. Mentally and physically, it will be a really good way for us to get on top of them before the World Cup starts,” De Villiers explained.
Having recently beaten Australia during a tri-series which also included Zimbabwe, De Villiers thinks South Africa are capable of doing the same Down Under.
“We can definitely win the series. We have got a bit of an edge over them,” the captain said.
That talk is all good and well, but far more important is that South Africa sharpen up in the areas where they are lacking. De Villiers believes that fielding is one of those areas, but he’s not talking about taking regulation catches or some basic stops. De Villiers hopes that the side can find their fielding X-Factor during the two upcoming series.
“We had a few meetings in Zimbabwe about fielding and we talked about it at length. It’s not about the basics – it’s about turning games around and doing special stuff that I see other teams do. I don’t believe we are in the top two fielding teams in the world and you need that at a World Cup,” the captain said.
That gives some insight into both South Africa’s confidence levels and where they currently stand with their preparations. While a few spots are certainly up for grabs, the team is now focusing far more on fine-tuning the key parts of their game rather than trying to find the key components.
A crucial test in both New Zealand and Australia will come for the bowling department. The death bowling in particular has been worrisome lately with the latter five overs often leaking over 80 runs at crunch time.
Barring severe injury, South Africa’s bowling core is likely to be led by Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel – both veterans of the game. Morkel is having one of his worst years in ODI bowling in ages. He has only played seven ODIs this year, but averages over 30.00 for the first time since 2009 and for only the third time in his entire career. He’s played three ODIs in Australia before, but his returns were sparse, too, with just five wickets in three games at an average of 30.80. The Australian wickets do offer extra pace and bounce and while Morkel’s place is certainly not under threat, South African selectors might be pondering a horses-for-courses approach when the World Cup squad announcement rolls around.
Wayne Parnell is in the team, but is currently nursing an injury and will only be assessed after the New Zealand leg of the tour to determine his fitness for the trip to Australia. As a left-arm pacer, he offers something different to the team, but is not the only bowler with that advantage.
Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who was South Africa’s leading ODI bowler once upon a time, has recovered from injury and marked his return with a five-wicket haul over the weekend. His awkward left-arm angle almost certainly puts him in contention for a World Cup spot, if he continues his good form. Tsotsobe has struggled with discipline in the past, failing fitness tests ahead of important tours and struggling with consistency, but he looks to have renewed his desire to compete at elite level.
Another man in the spotlight will be Ryan McLaren. He has become one of South Africa’s best ODI bowlers in recent months, but has never played an ODI in New Zealand or Australia and has limited experience overseas overall. This series, then, is a crucial dress rehearsal for South Africa’s World Cup hopefuls and selectors will be hoping their seemingly fine-tuned plans do not become a failed production. DM
Photo: South African cricketer AB de Villiers plays a shot during the ICC World Cup cricket match, Netherlands v South Africa, at the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) Stadium, in Mohali, India, 03 March 2011. EPA/HARISH TYAGI