Cape Town – South Africa’s acting captain JP Duminy, don’t lynch him, let his best instincts dictate his choice – to bowl – in the first one-day international against Zimbabwe on Sunday.
The Kimberley pitch had a far from traditional, yet noticeable coating of grass and offered disconcerting, near-spiteful lift at times off a decent length at the Diamond Oval: he simply could not resist putting the minnows in as immediate wisdom eclipsed longer-term interests.
Almost inevitably, it led to a significantly curtailed contest, the southern African neighbours posting only 117 and the Proteas stuttering a little to 119/5 to nevertheless ensure an early finish.
Sooner rather than later, the host nation need to get proper crease confidence (or read: some juggernaut totals) beneath their belts, especially bearing in mind the way their prior series, away to Sri Lanka, petered out from a decisive, three-zip start.
In game four in the two-match dead-rubber phase, they fell three runs short of a reduced target of 191, and in the last match slumped to an especially disappointing 121 all out in pursuit of 300.
So recent patterns certainly indicate that the Proteas – albeit notably weakened personnel-wise right now – have gone worryingly shy in ODI weight-of-total terms.
Come what may in surface conditions on offer at Mangaung Oval on Wednesday (13:00 start), it would be very much in SA’s interest to bat first – a likely event, you’d think.
The Zimbabweans ought to be far more inclined to chase if they win the toss, given the better chance of dragging out the contest to a good degree, and mindful of the Proteas’ sprightly attack.
Similarly, if Duminy calls correctly again he is bound to be in a far better position this time to confidently take first strike with the intention of “going big”.
Bloemfontein is only 168km away from Kimberley down a pretty straight road, but the pitch for the second clash really should be immeasurably better geared for batting exploits. (If it isn’t, frankly, there’d be a case for searching questions to be posed to Cricket South Africa.)
By reputation, Mangaung Oval is a modern paradise for stroke-players … and day/night matches, as this one is, only enhance the hallmark statistically.
The three highest totals ever achieved at the venue have all been in floodlit encounters, and that includes the beefiest one coming in the last ODI staged there.
It was England’s lofty 399 for nine against the Proteas in February 2016, a game they went on to win by 39 runs on Duckworth-Lewis method.
Jos Buttler feasted (105 off 109 balls) and there were half-centuries for all of Alex Hales, Ben Stokes and Joe Root.
Then, when the Proteas took to the crease, Quinton de Kock – rested from the current series – lashed what is presently a career third-best 138 not out off just 96 deliveries. It was enough to land him man-of-the-match in a losing cause.
The second best total in Bloemfontein is South Africa’s own 351 for six, and against the very same Zimbabwe in October 2010 – Colin Ingram made a century on debut and Hashim Amla also hoisted three figures.
The Proteas have won all of their last six ODIs in the city.
Head coach Ottis Gibson and his assistants may keep changes to the line-up to a minimum at this point, although veteran paceman Dale Steyn (last 50-overs appearance against Australia in Newlands in October 2016) should find a place in the attack after sitting out Kimberley.
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