Urgent SA need: ‘control’ bowler

Kagiso Rabada (Gallo Images)
Kagiso Rabada (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Someone to stick pretty religiously to his lines. If he can manage that in lengths too, so much the better.

That is who the Proteas will crave – and perhaps not just one such runs-suppressor – in the bowling department at St George’s Park on Saturday as they attempt to hit back fast from a rain-affected defeat to England, by 39 runs on the Duckworth/Lewis method, in the first one-day international in Bloemfontein on Wednesday.

South Africa were just about still in the high-scoring game when the heavens opened on the drought-stricken city, with sublime century-maker Quinton de Kock still at the wicket on a career-best 138 off 96 balls.

But as Mother Nature intervened, even the most diehard of Proteas supporters would have been hard-pressed to suggest with any great conviction that the hosts were probably “robbed”.

England had their noses quite well in front and had looked the more collectively smart, disciplined and balanced unit over the course of the 83.3 overs that were contested at Mangaung Oval, including blitzing 399 for nine in their full 50 overs with influential contributions from just about everyone in the top six.

Jos Buttler was the one to cash in most profitably as he strode to a ton of his own on a majestic day at the crease for the respective wicketkeeper/batsmen.

His surname may always carry the suspicion that it is misspelt, but perhaps that double ‘t’ in the middle only emphasises his turbo qualities; this was his second successive ODI century after a withering 116 not out at a strike rate of 223 against Pakistan in Dubai in November.

South Africa should bank as some comfort, heading for the Friendly City, the fact that they managed to be competitive in reply without, on this occasion, an innings of any substance from either of their long-time big two – captain AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla.

De Villiers, it should also be said, perished unselfishly to a brilliant boundary catch by the irrepressible Ben Stokes at a time when the weather-related tempest was building menacingly and they were trying to get ahead of the D/L requirement; I still don’t believe we should fret too deeply about his current lack of runs for his country.

De Kock’s searing, incomplete innings was deemed worthy enough to secure the man-of-the-match award, even if it inevitably seems a little hollow whenever it goes to a member of a losing side.

He is one of those rare batsmen capable of not only making but sometimes crucially changing a shot selection decision with a split second’s notice, and some of his boundaries were quite jaw-dropping in the decisiveness and audacity with which they were engineered.

The 23-year-old also served another reminder that once you allow him past 50, there is every chance he will also advance to three figures – he now has nine centuries from 53 innings in the format, and only been dismissed for a score somewhere between 50 and 100 on three occasions.

The Proteas’ demise in this fixture was primarily down to an unacceptably expensive outing from every member of their attack, as England revelled in their inconsistencies.

De Villiers was diplomatic – it may not have been the case behind closed dressing room doors, of course – about the troubles of his bowling arsenal in the immediate post-match TV interview, saying only that they would “need to adapt to conditions earlier” in Saturday’s follow-up.

Once again there was fallibility in South Africa’s fifth-bowler area, one shared by partial all-rounders Farhaan Behardien and the increasingly embattled JP Duminy – they leaked 93 runs between them across their 10-over allocation – but perhaps you should not be too severe on such players when the frontline four are experiencing deep angst as well.

The Proteas must try to introduce a calm, controlling seamer to their plans as quickly as they can (Marchant de Lange may be lucky to see further service in PE), and in that regard will be hoping that Kyle Abbott is fit enough to make the cut after his hamstring problems.

That may be a long shot, given the mere three-day turnaround from a Bloemfontein game he was ruled out of, and perhaps the Dolphins man is a more realistic bet for game three at Centurion next Tuesday.

Keep in mind also that SA presently cannot summon any of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Albie Morkel or Wayne Parnell to the cause for injury-related reasons.

Instead the 20-year-old pace phenomenon Kagiso Rabada – rested for the first match, and don’t savage the team management for that bigger-picture move – may be tasked with riding in to the rescue this weekend.

He may still lack significant experience, but “KG” shows a wisdom and composure beyond his years and seems one attractive candidate for helping to shut the worrisome sluice-gates ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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