SA CRICKET UPDATE
Proteas’ new ODI blueprint looks set to steer them to World Cup
New white-ball coach Rob Walter’s current attacking game plan has set the Proteas up for qualification to this year’s 50-over World Cup.
The Proteas’ One Day International (ODI) team is falling into place, which is crucial, a mere seven months out of the 50-over World Cup in India.
South Africa’s participation in the tournament, though, is not yet secured.
They take on Netherlands in the last two ODIs in their World Cup Super League (WCSL) qualifying campaign on 31 March and 2 April.
The Proteas are currently ninth on the WCSL standings – the top eight qualify directly for the global tournament – a 2-0 series win over the Dutch will all but seal their place over West Indies and Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is currently in New Zealand preparing to take on the Kiwis in a three-match ODI series. If, against the odds, Sri Lanka whitewash New Zealand 3-0, they will qualify, directly regardless of South Africa’s performance against Netherlands.
If the Proteas fail to finish in the top eight of the WCSL log, they will travel to Zimbabwe in June and July to play the pre-tournament qualifiers.
Although a humbling experience, playing a qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe might be a blessing in disguise for South Africa who only have seven ODI matches scheduled before the commencement of the World Cup in October.
South Africa’s recent 1-1 ODI series draw (the first match was rained out) with West Indies was the first series new white-ball coach Rob Walter was present for. A few extra matches to prepare for the most elusive trophy in South African cricket will do the side well and help to solidify their new game plan.
Despite only being with the national team for one series so far, Walter’s proposed game plan and vision for the Proteas has already presented itself on the field.
South Africa crushed 50-over and 20-over world champions England 2-1 in a three-match ODI series at the end of January – red-ball coach Shukri Conrad took charge of that series.
“England was a trial-and-error journey for them about their blueprint and then who fits the blueprint,” said new batting coach JP Duminy.
While the cricket played, with a relatively inexperienced team, against West Indies bodes well heading into a World Cup.
South Africa had four debutants against the Windies in Tristan Stubbs, Ryan Rickelton, Tony de Zorzi and Gerald Coetzee.
“The net has widened to create opportunities for guys to understand who we want in the team,” Duminy said.
While not all of the debutants had a successful series, the pool of players has been expanded in a series that did not count towards World Cup qualification.
“You get a better sense of the character when they’re put in a stressful situation, so from a captain’s perspective of understanding a player a bit better, that was very valuable,” said skipper Temba Bavuma.
“I don’t believe that we’ve lost anything as a team, and we’ve gained valuable insights in terms of taking the team forward.”
The batting blueprint, meanwhile, was exhibited by Bavuma and Heinrich Klaasen against the Windies.
Despite wickets tumbling consistently around him in the second ODI in East London, Bavuma continued playing attacking cricket and finished with a career best 144 off 118 deliveries.
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South Africa lost the match by 48 runs but the intent shown by the captain, when the chips are down, sends a strong message to the rest of the team.
In the third ODI, with the team in a spot of bother at 87 for four in the 13th over, Klaasen followed his captain’s lead and leathered the ball to all parts of the JB Marks Oval in Potchefstroom.
He finished on an unbeaten 119 off 61 deliveries, striking the fourth fastest ODI century by a South African in the process.
“We need to keep playing our brand of cricket because, when it comes to pressure situations in the World Cup, we must play the game,” Klaasen said after his belligerent innings.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but we know we’re going to stick to our blueprint and we’ll be happy, regardless of the outcome.”
The Proteas’ ODI side, when at full strength, look like world-beaters at the moment. Like most South African sides, the bowlers take care of themselves.
Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje are the natural front runners along with the many other pace options in Sisanda Magala, Lungi Ngidi, Gerald Coetzee, Wayne Parnell and Marco Jansen, while Bjorn Fortuin has proven capable of taking over the mantle left vacant by the injured Keshav Maharaj.
On the batting front, Quinton de Kock and Bavuma are an exceptional opening pair. Rassie van der Dussen has the best ODI batting record in South African cricket history.
Klaasen and Miller are two of the cleanest strikers of the ball in the latter stages of the game.
The only piece missing is the No 4 batter. Aiden Markram was given the role in the final ODI against West Indies – he also stood in as skipper in place of the injured Bavuma.
While Markram’s talent with the willow cannot be questioned, his ability to deliver often enough in 50-over cricket can.
The talented cricketer looked exquisite in his 26-ball 25-run stay on Tuesday but threw his wicket away, as he has done on countless occasions in the format.
Markram averages a shade under 29 in the format, with no centuries in 48 matches for the national team.
The new T20I captain provides tidy off break spin bowling – which could prove handy in India – but his batting is what the Proteas really need in order to become the positive team they’re striving to be. DM