‘A dream come true’

2015-01-14 00:00

A BATTERED and bruised Proteas outfit will go into today’s third and final T20 against the West Indies in Durban without captain Faf du Plessis.

South Africa’s centurion from their loss to the islanders on Sunday is being rested ahead of the five-match ODI series against the Windies, which gets underway at Kingsmead on Friday, as he nurses a slight hip strain. The experience of all-rounder Justin Ontong means that he will take the reins for today’s dead rubber that starts at 6 pm.

But even though the outcome of this match will have no bearing on the series, there is always reason to look forward to a fixture involving Chris Gayle. The left-handed opener, described by Du Plessis as having “superhuman” qualities this week, has been in devastating form in the two T20s so far, scoring a combined 167 runs from just 72 balls. His explosiveness in the power-play has been particularly worrying for the Proteas bowlers, who have not yet identified or executed a length to contain him. Whatever that length may be, it is surely not Kyle Abbott’s low full tosses straight and outside off stump. Gayle tore the Dolphins seamer apart in Johannesburg and Abbott did his starting ambitions at next month’s World Cup no favours with the worst bowling performance in the history of international T20 cricket (1/68). Shaun Pollock suggested from the commentary box on Sunday that SA might consider employing the short ball against Gayle early on and they have the pace to do that through fit-again speedster Marchant de Lange. But Ontong was giving nothing away yesterday.

“I don’t think it is ideal for me to say [what strategy will be employed] because Gayle will hear it,” said Ontong. “He’s a world-class player and it’s very hard to contain him on his day. But we obviously have a plan A and B. It’s all about the execution of skills. I think we’ve let ourselves down there.

“At coastal venues the ball does tend to do a bit more, so hopefully we can nick him off very early. That will open a lot of doors for us. He’s due for a failure and hopefully that will be tomorrow.”

Ontong’s last international appearance before this series came in March 2013 in a T20 against Pakistan at Centurion. There were times when he had almost given up on his international career, but captaining the Proteas has made it all worth the wait.

“I’ve always had that passion,” the 35-year-old said. “But there’s always a time that you feel like you’re done. Luckily, I hadn’t given up and I kept going. I tried to make sure the Cape Cobras were a very successful team and if they were successful and kept on winning, then you never know. Today, I’m sitting here and I’m really honoured.”

Ontong added that today’s match was “probably the proudest cricket moment of my career”.

“I’m just so privileged to be captain of my country. It’s a dream come true,” he said.

With Du Plessis out, there is likely to be a return for promising Knights opener Reeza Hendricks. The innovative left hander played and failed in the series opener in Cape Town, but today will be an ideal opportunity for him to be exposed to more international cricket. Hendricks’s inclusion will probably see Rilee Rossouw move back down to the middle order, while Dolphins skipper Morne van Wyk will be desperate to cash in on his international lifeline.

But the problem for the Proteas hasn’t been their batting and it is rather their consistency with ball in hand that will need to improve. Ontong was quick to point out that Gayle is not the only dangerous hitter in the Windies line-up.

“I think everyone’s talking about­ ­Gayle, but we’re forgetting that they still have a number of match-winners in their midst,” said SA’s latest skipper. “We just need a little bit more work on the ­bowling front. I’m hoping for a very good performance in the field. I think that can set us up nicely.”

With the weather a seemingly constant obstacle in Durban, spectators will be shocked to learn that there is no rain forecast for today or tonight.

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