Proteas need fast pick-me-up

Wayne Parnell (Gallo)
Wayne Parnell (Gallo)
Cape Town – So, no rest for the wicked ... though some might prefer to give the current South African limited-overs international players a slightly less flattering label than “wicked”.

Straight off their depressingly feckless 4-1 surrender of the ODI series in Sri Lanka, where a common thread was a real thrashing in both the first and last contests, the Proteas have little time for any moping or introspection.

Somehow they must lift themselves for the three-match Twenty20 series, beginning in Colombo as quickly as Friday (15:30 SA time) before the circus moves onward to Hambantota for Sunday and Tuesday clashes.

The Sri Lankans have their visitors by the short and curlies, and it is hard, frankly, to see South Africa turning their fortunes around suitably quickly to earn a semblance of revenge over the next few days.

But hope springs eternal, and if the argument that “the shorter the format, the more the underdog may thrive” still holds some legitimacy, then the Proteas may prove considerably more competitive.

Plus the arrival of a quartet of additions to the mix – top-order batsman Henry Davids, leg-spinner Imran Tahir and all-rounders Wayne Parnell and the uncapped David Wiese – is at least one way in which a pep-up of sorts may occur.

At least these men haven’t been scarred by the events of the last couple of weeks, so their mental freshness and hopefully eagerness to weigh in lustily is something to be harnessed as productively as possible.

There are no guarantees that all of them will earn immediate call-ups, because one drawback to chew on is that they come straight out of the late South African winter, and have thus largely been idle in cricketing terms for some time.

The 33-year-old domestic veteran Davids, for example, last played a serious match in the final of the Ram Slam T20 competition for the Titans against neighbours the Lions on April 7.

But he does at least have four prior T20 international caps to his name, and a promising record in the green shirt thus far, so is no stranger to the camp and should acclimatise relatively quickly.

All four late arrivals have a glorious opportunity not only to nail down berths in South Africa’s T20 plans for the next while, but also to serve very timely notice of their credentials – either new or resurgent -- for the currently wretchedly unstable 50-overs format.

Davids, for starters, will be well aware that good starts for the ODI side aren’t exactly coming dime a dozen: in the just-completed series South Africa’s opening stands have been (from most recent backwards) 35, 17, 14, 7 and 0 – if you wanted to take an optimistic view, you could argue that they’ve kept getting “better” as the tour has dragged on.

Tahir’s leggies certainly now bring a vitally-needed different element to the spin front, even if a feeling remains that he can be a tad too prone to full tosses, long hops and the like.

But he has a surprisingly strong record in ODIs for the Proteas thus far (all in Subcontinental conditions, at the last World Cup) and provides relief from the Peterson-Phangiso left-arm alliance that hasn’t exactly sizzled in ‘Lanka thus far.

While Wiese will be testing his mettle at international level for the first time – his clean boundary hitting is a known strength back home – Parnell has a chance to remind the selectors and team bosses that he may offer a greater all-round package as a left-arm seamer than incumbent Lonwabo Tsotsobe does.

The last-named player has been a mixed bag again in Sri Lanka (though who isn’t at present?), sometimes bowling impressive first-up spells with the hard ball, but then subsiding too much in later bursts when he is losing stamina – some experts consider this an ongoing issue for the beanpole – and certainly not being a factor either as a fielder or batsman.

Here the more nimble Parnell has an obvious edge, though this relative “veteran” – albeit still only having turned 24 two days ago – of 44 limited-overs fixtures for the country must first re-convince us of his mojo at his main, supposedly strike-bowling trade.

With Dale Steyn still resting up back in South Africa for challenges on the horizon, the Proteas have sorely lacked the ability to make consistent, run rate-curbing breakthroughs with the ball in Sri Lanka.

Parnell is called a “wicket-taker”. So in a nutshell, here’s hoping for some wickets ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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