South Africa lost their five-match ODI series against Australia 4-1. The series created more questions than it answered and it exposed some of South Africa’s known weaknesses once again. ANTOINETTE MULLER picks five talking points.
Australia survived a late scare in the fifth and final ODI against South Africa on Sunday to clinch the series 4-1 and regain the number one spot in the ODI rankings. It was the same old story for the Proteas, with ill-discipline in both the batting and bowling towards the end of their innings. Australia won by two wickets on the Duckworth-Lewis method, but overall this series has created more questions than answers for South Africa.
The five-match series against Australia served a dual purpose. First, South Africa wanted to gather intel about the conditions they’d play the World Cup next year. Second, they wanted to fine-tune some of the potential combinations they could use during the competition. But things didn’t work out quite so well. Here are five talking points.
What’s going to happen with the middle order?
Rilee Rossouw, Farhaan Behardien and David Miller are, without a doubt, the liabilities of the batting line-up. Rossouw and Behardien both scored runs in the final ODI while Miller has, as ever, showed glimpses of his glimmering potential. But in a World Cup, there simply is no room for liabilities. What’s worse is that South Africa will not have time to test out any new combinations before they head over to the tournament. There are five ODIs against the West Indies coming up, but they are only after the squad announcements for the World Cup are due. The domestic one-day competition also does not resume after the squads are due. It’s a logistical nightmare and most likely means that South Africa will not have their best and most in-form players at the World Cup.
The death bowling still needs work
This will sound like a stuck record to those who regularly watch South Africa, but they still have not got a clue how to bowl at the death. The fifth and final ODI against Australia was the first time in the entire series where they cranked up the pressure in the final overs. Despite that, they are still too error-prone and even the menace that is Dale Steyn can often be ineffective. Executing plans and having plans at the end of an innings is vital, but for so long, South Africa have leaked far too many runs in the final over. It’s a problem that’s plagued them for months and it’s shown no signs of being fixed just yet.
What happens if a key player gets injured?
The failure to perform in Australia would have left a few people quite shell-shocked because, for the past 12 months, South Africa looked like a solid ODI unit. They have just recently won a tri-series, beating none other than Australia in the final in Zimbabwe. Then, JP Duminy picked up an injury before the series against Australia and it was as if everything just fell apart. His worth has become more apparent than ever before, but it should leave the South Africans somewhat worried. If a player like Duminy’s absence makes such a massive impact, imagine what would happen if Hashim Amla or, heaven forbid, AB de Villiers were to be ruled out of a World Cup. There is plenty of talent waiting in the wings, but none of those have seen a South African cap just yet and it’s unlikely that they will do until after the World Cup.
What of the batting order, then?
Logic would dictate that teams want their best batsman batting for as long as possible. Yet AB de Villiers is often shoved down the order. It’s been a bone of contention for South Africa for some time now and while it can be justified in a series where everything centred around “trying new combinations”, it’s imperative that, during the World Cup, De Villiers is given as much time as possible at the crease. Faf du Plessis has made the number three spot his own, so it’s unlikely that De Villiers will bat any higher than four, but to push him further down the order will simply be a waste. It’s even more important to think about sending De Villiers in as early as possible if the top order fails. While players like David Miller can provide some big-hitting lower down the order, De Villiers is the most adaptable player in the team and he should be used as such.
Can they really afford to play just four frontline bowlers?
For the series against Australia, South Africa took the pragmatic approach on a few occasions of only playing four frontline bowlers. They relied on everyone from Farhaan Behardien to AB de Villiers to make up the overs, but this is not a practical long-term solution. The return of Duminy will restore the balance of the bowling attack somewhat, but South Africa still looks lopsided when there are just four key bowlers to rely on. Kyle Abbott, Wayne Parnell, Vernon Philander and Ryan McLaren are all pushing for a spot at number seven, which will leave South Africa with will leave South Africa with room to manoeuvre to pick six batsmen. That “all-rounder” role is still up for grabs. Playing just four bowlers simply isn’t a solution and the players pushing for number seven will have to find some impetus with the bat in order to make the balance work. DM
Photo: Australian cricketer Mitchell Johnson signs autographs between between innings during the first one day international (ODI) cricket match between Australia and South Africa at the WACA ground in Perth, western Australia, 14 November 2014. Australia fast bowler Mitchell Johnson was named cricketer of the year and Test cricketer of the year by the International Cricket Council (ICC). EPA/RICHARD WAINWRIGHT.