Proteas: Critical game in Bloem (or Potch!)

Quinton de Kock (Gallo Images)
Quinton de Kock (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Quinton de Kock’s raw but now slightly re-energised Proteas team have two chances in the next few days to stave off a dubious home landmark.

Win either of the two closing one-day internationals at Bloemfontein on Wednesday or Potchefstroom on Saturday against arch-rivals Australia, from their 1-0 advantage after Paarl, and they will not only win the series but ensure they don’t become the first South African men’s side since 1993/94 to fail to win any form of bilateral series in a home summer.

That is the only previous occasion in the entire post-isolation era in which the Proteas have come up short in that regard: they drew 1-1 in a home Test series with the Baggy Greens then, and the unusually long, eight-match ODI series on SA soil against the Aussies was also split 4-4.

There were no other home opponents that season.

South Africa have always lifted a trophy on their own (so excluding a few shared occasions) in every other summer since then.

Even in the three other seasons since 1993/94 when they have failed to triumph in a home Test series (2009/10, 2010/11 and 2015/16), the Proteas have won at least one trophy at white-ball level, whether ODI or Twenty20.

This campaign, however, dangerously sees them yet to get off the mark with an outright success: they have been beaten 3-1 by England in a Test series, shared the weather-affected ODIs with them 1-1, lost the T20 portion 2-1, and then had another 2-1 reverse in the recent T20 tussles with the Australians.

So the current ODI series is the final opportunity for De Kock and company to set things right before the home activity ends for them, while also avenging the T20 setback to the old enemy.

The comprehensive, 74-run victory at hot, smoke-enveloped but well-attended Boland Park on Saturday was a heartening step toward ensuring that.

It was highlighted by the overdue development of some South African middle-order figures coming to light: most notably Heinrich Klaasen, who earned a maiden century (123 not out) in his 15th ODI, from the No 5 berth.

As television commentator Mike Haysman noted, the 28-year-old from Pretoria is a “powerhouse”: he has the ability to clear the ropes even when he is still shifting in weight between front and back foot, and he doesn’t always require a major, flamboyant back-lift to smash the ball into the upper tiers.

Klaasen, who offers back-up credentials to often hard-pressed skipper De Kock as a wicketkeeper and occasional part-time bowler into the bargain, is on a decent trot in his SA green kit: just back from an injury interruption, this innings was preceded by T20 knocks of 22 against the Aussies at Newlands and 66 against England at Centurion.

Now the Proteas’ quest must be – in what would be another welcome first this season – to earn a back-to-back international win at Mangaung Oval (13:00 start), ensuring an early close-out of the series spoils at 2-0 to the good.

They have won 15, lost seven and tied one of their 23 ODIs in Bloemfontein.

Specifically against Australia there, however, their record is only one from three.

The last bilateral tussle at the ground was as far back as March 2002, when Ricky Ponting led by example against Shaun Pollock’s host nation, clubbing 129 in a total of 290 for six.

South Africa replied with 253, meaning a 37-run loss, although Neil McKenzie and Jonty Rhodes managed half-centuries.

If this series instead comes down to a decider at Potchefstroom’s Senwes Park in a daytime fixture on Saturday (10:00), the Proteas’ ODI record there against all comers is six wins, a defeat, tie and no-result from nine matches.

That tie, interestingly, comes from the only earlier meeting there with the Aussies, also in that March 2002 series.

SA’s 259 for seven (Rhodes 83, Jacques Kallis 71) was followed up by the tourists’ 259 for nine (Matthew Hayden 78, Makhaya Ntini 4/33) in the nail-biter.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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