Cape Town – South Africa fielded an especially callow, experimental side … and it showed.
Naivety and over-eagerness were the primary pitfalls as they tasted defeat for the first time in game four of the one-day international series against Sri Lanka at Pallekele on Wednesday.
Already confirmed as series winners, you could brand this a funny old game for the Proteas, led for the first time – and he warranted no special culpability himself for the result, in truth – by slightly unlikely commander Quinton de Kock.
On the one hand they were fortunate, really, to have lost by the deceptively nail-biting margin of three runs on the DLS method: as the side batting second in a significantly rain-interrupted contest, the dice was loaded in their favour as they effectively took to the crease for a “Twenty20” type of target after the ‘Lankans had played much closer to an orthodox ODI knock.
Let’s face it, the home outfit’s 306 for seven from 39 overs looks a lot more impressive in the final analysis than South Africa’s 187 for nine off 21; Angelo Mathews and company were worthy winners.
Then again, so runaway and confident was the Proteas’ start to the more slim-line chase set for them that they should have crossed the line, and in doing so kept alive their hopes of a 5-0 sweep.
They were eye-openingly ahead of the required run rate in the first half of their innings, and with a healthy stock of wickets in hand, as Hashim Amla and a red-hot JP Duminy – notable exceptions to the fresh-faced look of the XI – went a long way toward teeing up another victory.
But when both flying batsmen were dismissed in the space of little more than three overs (Duminy to a direct hit from a risky run) the remainder of the SA order seemed rather too keen to keep up a “crash, bang, wallop” sort of philosophy than employ sensible, more measured cricket for the desired outcome.
Hopefully head coach Ottis Gibson and his assistants would have kept the team in the “shed” – or will have convened an intensive post-mortem back at the hotel – to emphasise the extent to which they blew it from a favourable platform.
If the analysis is properly digested and the multitude of mistakes acknowledged, still almost 10 months short of the World Cup in the UK, then an event like this one could prove extremely useful in that context.
After all, some of the newer faces in the Proteas set-up might have been given a distorted impression of the demands of international cricket over the course of the first three ODIs where they held the whip hand and Sri Lanka, for their part, had looked a motley old crew.
It would be healthy for both teams, looking ahead to the final meeting in Colombo on Sunday, if the host nation continue their revival in competitiveness then.
This outcome was anything but a calamity for South Africa, considering that regular captain Faf du Plessis has been stripped from the plans now through injury and that the sensible decision was made to give prize bowling spearhead Kagiso Rabada a break from the fourth ODI.
Deprived of the 51-cap Rabada, the tourists put out probably the least experienced frontline attack they have in many years on Wednesday.
Consider the prior appearances in the format: Lungi Ngidi seven, Junior Dala zero, Andile Phehlukwayo 28, Wiaan Mulder four, Keshav Maharaj two.
That is an average of 8.2 caps per player among the five, and the absence of a truly seasoned character among them went some way to explaining the relative trauma they suffered collectively (three of them travelling at eight-plus an over and the other two around seven).
But it was also an appealing, true batting surface, and none of the South African bowlers, to their credit, ever gave the impression of losing the plot completely.
Sometimes the school of hard knocks is … well, there for a purpose.
It was also no bad thing that Duminy, in his massively contrasting own 188th ODI, again looked the part as sixth element of the attack, doing more than most to arrest the haemorrhaging of runs in his stint of 6-0-35-2 and economy of 5.83.
He is one more street-wise, previously much-maligned SA player for whom this series has been a revelation pretty much since the start …
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