Cricket Watch

Proteas on a roll, but some concerns remain

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South Africa has been as unstoppable as a runaway freight train in One Day Internationals (ODIs) the past four months, despite obvious flaws which they still hope to address before the Cricket World Cup in Australasia in February and March 2015.

In thirteen ODIs away from home this year, South Africa has won eleven. And there have been very few close shaves.

The victories have been set up by excellent top-order batting, notably AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, Quinton de Kock and JP Duminy.

On Tuesday, De Villiers and Duminy shared in an unbeaten 139-run partnership off 140 balls to propel the Proteas to victory in the first ODI of a three-match series against New Zealand at the Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui.

And the series was sealed when Amla scored his sixteenth ODI-century for South Africa in his 97th match on Friday to set up a 72-run win in the second ODI against the Black Caps at the same venue. It was South Africa’s fourth series win away from home in 2014.

South Africa stormed and swamped a fortress in July by beating Sri Lanka in their own backyard 2-1, followed by a ODI-series win against Zimbabwe and another in a triangular series in Zimbabwe that included the hosts and Australia.

The Proteas romped to a 6-wicket win against the Baggy Greens, whom they meet again in their next ODI-series starting next week in Australia, in the final of the triangular series.

One has to sing the virtues of De Villiers and Amla, two of the most celebrated and top-ranked ODI-players in the world. They have been the senior statesmen who have set up most victories with the bat for South Africa the past year.

And, Du Plessis notched up three successive centuries and 96 in Zimbabwe, followed by 67 in a 113-run second-wicket partnership with Amla in the second ODI against New Zealand.

The Black Caps have gained notoriety for superb batting on home grounds and for the ability by their attack to frustrate batsmen with a liquorice allsorts variety of cutters, back-of-the-hand slower balls and Yorkers.

But they were not able to contain the South Africans in the first two ODIs. Seasoned campaigners like Amla, De Villiers, Du Plessis and Duminy have developed well during games away from home in India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. And with De Kock, they have also shaped and extended their attacking repertoire in the Indian Premier League on slow and occasional two-paced wickets.

Areas of Concern

But, there remain areas of concern that South Africa would like to address in a hurry.

Top of the list is death bowling and the often inability to land clinical knock-out blows. In the first ODI at Mount Maunganui, Luke Ronchi and Trent Boult added 74 runs for the tenth wicket, a record partnership against South Africa.

In the second ODI Ronchi and Mitchell McClenaghan added 76 for the tenth wicket as the South African pace attack struggled again to assert themselves while yoker balls were noticeably absent.

Perhaps the word yorker has been used too abundantly by commentators in ODI-cricket and too easily thrown around as if it is the architect of the demise of any 9, 10 and Jack. Sure, tail-end-batsmen have improved their batting considerably the past ten years.

And the Indian Premier League has seen batsmen experiment with, and also refine the use of back-foot strokes like the Dill-scoop, reverse sweeps and even switch-hits to dispatch well-intended yorkers to the fine-leg and third man boundaries.

But Boult and McClenaghan are not experts at these deft and audacious shots. Why Dale Steyn and Morné Morkel failed to the use of the yorkers in the death overs in New Zealand, remain a mystery.

In terms of the batting, the jury is still out on what the composition of South Africa’s final eleven will look like for the Cricket World Cup.

Rilee Rossouw possesses an abundance of talent, but he has been out for a first-ball duck in three of his five ODIs.

David Miller is still struggling to make big scores, but he seldom gets opportunities to bat for longer than thirty deliveries, so he can hardly be expected notch up half-centuries if not presented with longer batting opportunities. He is arguably the victim of the glorious performances by De Kock, Amla, De Villiers, Du Plessis and Duminy in the top-order.

Probably right now South Africa’s greatest concern in its preparation for next year’s World Cup is the widely publicised fall-out between the West Indian Cricket Board and the West Indian Players Association. It caused the West Indian players to return home mid-tour from India.

If this dispute drags on indefinitely the West Indian tour to South Africa might be in jeopardy and the ODI series might be called off, which could seriously impact the Proteas’ preparations for the Cricket World Cup.

by Fanie Heyns

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