Proteas need the big guns back in the batting order

2013-01-25 00:00

CAPE TOWN — South Africa may be closer than expected to fitting their one-day international jigsaw back together again.

Following the shock home series loss to New Zealand and ahead of the third and last match to be played in Potchefstroom today, a predictable climate of despondency and even annoyance is taking fresh root among the fans.

Fair enough … there were many unedifying aspects to the Proteas’ performances in Paarl and Kimberley, where opportunities undoubtedly presented themselves in each instance to turn the outcomes the other way.

The situation is a little worrying, but by no means calamitous. It was always intended that the ODI series — first against the Black Caps and then Pakistan in a few weeks — would include a strong measure of experimentation, a time of observation and box-ticking for the brains trust as far as peripheral members of the limited-overs squad are concerned.

Most of the younger players being trialled continue to be in an inconclusive feet-finding mode, although the wisdom they are gaining even through spells of adversity may stand them in good stead.

For the Proteas’ biggest ODI assignment of 2013, the ICC Champions Trophy in England from early June, a much heavier emphasis should, and probably will, be placed once more on seasoned, proven customers.

I would stop short of suggesting too strongly that the absence of many staple names from the batting line-up has represented a credible excuse for the unexpected reverse to the resurgent Black Caps.

For their part, the New Zealanders were missing such surnames as Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder, Daniel Vettori and Tim Southee, so that has to be kept in mind, although you would expect South Africa, with their far broader pool of genuine talent, to still be capable of seeing off these foes at home even with some rookies on board.

But by the time the Champions Trophy comes along, the primary batting positions for SA will, I’m pretty sure, be staffed by considerably gnarlier names once more. It may be the final edition of the tournament, but South African fans are desperate for any infernal ICC silverware.

Conditions in the United Kingdom in their early summer tend to pose special challenges, ones often best tackled by cricketers with healthy prior knowledge of what is required to prosper there.

I remain fairly convinced, even if there are sure to be people with very conflicting views, that South Africa’s top six to start out the Champions Trophy against India at Cardiff on June 6 should read: Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers (doubling as wicketkeeper once more, as I’m positive he will at this tourney), Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy.

There is, of course, an argument that the top three I have listed are both too “orthodox” for the ODI game and slightly long in the tooth, and that a younger firebrand is required in one of those up-front slots.

A counter to that theory is that no consistently high-performing alternative candidate has put his hand up, although Colin Ingram has begun to look a possibility again in the current series and might go to England as a back-up batsman anyway.

And if you have De Villiers, Du Plessis and a presumably injury-rehabilitated Duminy between berths four and six, there is pick-up-the-tempo potential in comforting measures even if some minor slowness in scoring rate has been registered from the veterans preceding them.

In Kimberley on Wednesday, South Africa gave up a vast, collective tally of 611 ODI caps when their line-up did not feature any of Amla, Kallis, De Villiers or Duminy.

There were notably fewer supplementary bowling options within the top six at De Beers Diamond Oval, too.

There is reason for some concern about South Africa’s ODI capabilities right now … there is no escaping it. But there is also no immediate cause for panic.

The Proteas peaking at an ICC jamboree, where they are so glaringly overdue for success, is much more important than in a relatively unsexy bilateral mini-series against New Zealand.

By the time the five-match ODI series against Pakistan is played, expect South Africa to be starting to filter back some “hardebaarde”, in order to fine-tune for the English get-together.

Today’s match starts at 2 pm and will be televised on SuperSport Two.

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