From life after Dale Steyn to Kagiso Rabada’s workload, there’s plenty to ponder for South Africa as they seek redemption and distraction in the limited overs format, following their nightmare Test series against England. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
With the horror of the Test series behind them, South Africa switch gears and change their focus to the shorter formats of the game. A five-match one-day series will start a jamboree of T20s, as the Proteas look to fine-tune their preparations for the World T20, beginning in India in March. While the actual point of one-day bilateral outside of a World Cup year remains questionable, it does bring with it the potential for a distraction and plenty of entertainment. Proceedings will kick off in Bloemfontein on Wednesday before moving to Port Elizabeth on Saturday, Centurion on Tuesday next week, followed by the Wanderers on Friday, and things will end at Newlands on Valentine’s Day. The short turnaround time will mean that there is little space to pontificate over what might have gone right or wrong in either of these fixtures, but there are some pertinent questions for South Africa to answer during this series. Here are a few.
What will life be like after Dale Steyn?
Despite being shut in a hyperbaric chamber, Dale Steyn has not recovered from the injury that kept him on the sidelines for most of the Test series. With one eye on the World T20, he will play no part in the ODI series, and South Africa will get yet another taste of what life might be like when their pace ace eventually calls it a day. Sometime during the Test series, Steyn was adamant that he was not going anywhere, at least not by choice. The reality, sadly, is somewhat different. Steyn is increasingly struggling with little niggles, something he has never had to deal with in his career before. Whether he likes it or not, he might have to think a bit more carefully about how he manages his playing time. This opportunity allows South Africa to test some of their fringe bowlers to see if they could at least be a smidgen as good as Steyn has been.
How much will Kagiso Rabada play?
Life after Steyn won’t actually be as bad as long as South Africa has Kagiso Rabada. The 20-year old claimed the second-best figures for a South African in a Test match during their consolation win in Centurion, and his star has been rising rapidly. But there is one snag. Rabada is at a delicate time in his career and is a possible candidate for stress fractures. The original plan was to keep him on the sidelines for the first two ODIs, something which seems unlikely with Kyle Abbott still out injured. South Africa might be tempted to play him for the first part of the series instead. Marchant de Lange has been added to the squad as cover, but his two for 69 in the warm-up game does not exactly inspire confidence that he could lead the attack.
Will the real AB de Villiers please show up?
AB de Villiers looked a shadow of his talented self during the Test series, recording a pair for the first time in his career, and generally struggling to get going. Having had some time off and unburned from the pressure that came with the Test series, perhaps De Villiers will finally deliver the kind of performances that is expected of him. The venue for the first ODI is the same place where De Villiers made his ODI debut almost exactly 11 years ago to the day. That fixture was also against England and it ended in a tie, with De Villiers scoring a meagre 20 runs opening the batting. Statistically, though, De Villiers does have some cause for concern. His batting average against England in ODIs is just 30.00 in 21 matches, his third lowest against any time and the lowest against any of the Test playing nations.
What will happen with South Africa’s batting order?
Speaking of De Villiers opening the batting, South Africa’s batting order is likely to cause some consternation once again. Some critics believe that De Villiers should open or, at least, bat as high as number three. The theory is that teams want their best batsman to face as many balls as possible. The last time De Villiers walked in at number three he hit 149 off just 59 balls against the West Indies in Centurion back in 2015, but he has not been used there since. South Africa have a solid group of batsmen, and it will be interesting to see who is used in what role.
Can David Miller finally fulfil his potential?
It’s hard to believe that David Miller has been playing international cricket since 2010. He’s showed so much potential domestically, but has always struggled to translate that to international cricket. In 2015, that started to change. He averaged more than he ever had in a calendar year (45.56), scored more runs in ODIs than ever before, coupled with a maiden century. He’s been in good form domestically (he managed two 50s in the four-day game in seven innings) and averaged 38.71 in the domestic T20 competition. He is quite obviously not bereft of talent, but he needs a few consistent performances to keep the selectors convinced. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Kagiso Rabada (Top) celebrates with his teammates the dismissal of England’s Jonny Bairstow after he was caught out by wicket keeper Quinton de Kock (not in the picture) during the fourth cricket test match at Centurion, South Africa, January 26, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko.