Cape Town – Robin Peterson has probably moved a great deal closer to his first one-day international appearance in more than a year as the Proteas try to keep the series alive against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Friday.
South Africa crashed to the most comprehensive defeat between the sides in three games in Canberra on Wednesday, as they went down by 73 runs to slip 2-1 behind in the five-match series and now need two wins on the trot if they are to seize the overall spoils.
It ended rather meekly as captain AB de Villiers unexpectedly indicated that last man Imran Tahir – apparently carrying a knee injury – would not be taking guard.
The Proteas’ goose had already been well cooked, but it is still unusual to run up a white flag in that manner, with “wounded warriors” more often than not hobbling out defiantly to prolong the scrap as much as possible.
Although not much more was known at the time of writing, Tahir’s injury was presumably serious enough to warrant his rare absence as the No 11 batsman – suggesting also that he is unlikely to be fit in time for the MCG (where the tourists at least have the knowledge of a fine ODI record) just two days on.
Regardless of his state of fitness, some fresh concerns will have begun to take root over his form Down Under: the leg-spinner’s main duty is to take wickets in the middle phase of the opposition innings and in the first three ODIs Tahir has a shaky return of 1/131 from 25 overs which is not quite what the doctor ordered.
Whether his injury was an impediment or not, Tahir only got through six overs for the concession of 40 runs on Wednesday.
So Peterson, the only other remaining spinner in the SA squad, is likely to be strongly considered for the make-or-break Melbourne clash anyway.
He has far less of a wicket-taking reputation than Tahir, but he does offer a more appealing, broad cricketing package: the veteran left-arm spinner is a better, sometimes forceful batsman and considerably superior and more mobile fielder.
Yet again, South Africa’s middle- to-lower order failed to cut the mustard at Manuka Oval, after century-maker Hashim Amla and, for a while, a menacing De Villiers had set up what should have been a rather more thrilling finish to a high-scoring fixture.
The 35-year-old Peterson, apart from his bowling responsibility, would provide more oomph and depth with the blade – he can be a useful floating factor in a batting order with his often unorthodox enterprise.
Interestingly, despite as many as 77 caps in the format since 2002, he has only run into the Aussies three times previously in this format, and not yet on their soil.
A never-say-die sort of character despite his limitations in some areas, Peterson has not played a 50-overs international for more than a year, his last game being against Pakistan in Sharjah last November.
But he comes off a solid last game for the Proteas at Twenty20 level, where he claimed figures of 4-0-28-3 in Sydney a few days back.
The SA brains trust should also more seriously consider finding a way to include Kyle Abbott for the fourth encounter; the closing overs of the Aussie knock remain too leak-prone.
Morne Morkel suffered a notable correction after his 5/21 heroics on a bouncy, quick WACA surface, travelling for 84 runs in a completed stint in Canberra – though there were unlucky moments for the gangly speedster -- and he was also guilty of the lion’s share (seven) of the Proteas’ freebies handed to their hosts in the shape of 11 wides/no-balls.
Morkel bowled the 50th over here and was caned for 19 runs which only further curbed the likelihood of South Africa having a successful chase of 330.
The Australian attack only erred three times for extra deliveries, by contrast, which was proof of the overall professionalism of their performance.
Now it is the turn of De Villiers’s men again to get into “response” mode with some haste ...
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