Proteas: Big strain on AB

AB de Villiers (Gallo Images)
AB de Villiers (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - There are certain strong parallels at present between the plights of AB de Villiers and Michael Clarke, two of the premier, exhilarating international batsmen on the planet.

Each man is leading an embattled national cause, even if separated by many thousands of kilometres and fighting in different formats of the game.

Clarke’s Australians are 2-0 down in the five-Test Ashes series in England; De Villiers’s Proteas are in an identical pickle in a five-game one-day international series in bogey country Sri Lanka.

In each instance, some prophets of doom are no doubt inclined to suspect that humiliating, 5-0 clean sweeps cannot completely be ruled out.

Also in common for right-handed stroke-players Clarke and De Villiers is the heavy, dangerous current dependency on each man to deliver the goods personally right now, despite the additional burden of captaincy in ailing causes.

Clarke is the best batsman by reputation by a country mile in the Aussie Test line-up, and pretty much the same applies to De Villiers, given that a traditionally key ally in Hashim Amla has been injured and is yet to take to the crease in the ‘Lankan series.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, fortunes at the crease haven’t exactly been hunky-dory for either Clarke or De Villiers as the weight of leadership no doubt takes on slightly oppressive proportions in both cases.

“Pup” Clarke has registered notably sub-standard Test innings, by his high standards, of 0 and 23 (Trent Bridge) and 28 and 51 (Lord’s), whilst De Villiers, with successive knocks of only 23 and 12 in the Sri Lankan ODIs, is also uncharacteristically labouring just a bit.

With South Africa facing the first of three remaining, do-or-die fixtures against the host nation from their parlous position, at Pallekele on Friday (11:00 start SA time), the scenario seems pretty straightforward for the Proteas: either De Villiers must come into form in a dramatic way, or others around him at the crease must stick their hands up to a far greater extent than has been witnessed thus far if the tourists are to belatedly prosper.

A bit of both elements, and suddenly South Africa should be much more capable of mercifully breaking a ghastly streak against these foes in their own habitat, which has seen them handed 11 ODI reverses on the trot there.

The skipper is certainly “due” to come off in a meaningful way, given his consistent reputation as a potential match-winner in one-day cricket in recent years, and it would be especially welcome because all the signs are that Amla will not win the race to be fit in time for Friday’s game three.

De Villiers, while maintaining a lofty ODI career average of just under 50, has had eight further innings since achieving the last of his 14 ODI centuries, against Pakistan at the Wanderers in mid-March.

Instructively, on that occasion his long-time partner in assault and battery, Amla, also got to three figures as the Proteas won a high-scoring encounter by 34 runs and they posted 238 runs together, before SA went on to clinch the series 3-2.

What the team would give for a stand of such magnitude very shortly against the Sri Lankans!

Centuries, in fact, have been in short supply by South Africa in the format of late, which probably goes quite a long way to explaining why they have stuttered in both the ICC Champions Trophy and thus far in Sri Lanka.

The last time someone reached the landmark was when JP Duminy blasted 150 not out en route to the UK for the multinational tournament, but that was in the once-off, effectively “warm-up” ODI against minnows the Netherlands.

It is also no coincidence that the Proteas saw off Pakistan in the last home series largely on the strength of De Villiers’s majesty at the time: he smashed consecutive scores of 65, 4, 128, 75 and 95 not out to amass 367 runs at a dizzy 91.75. What a pity that now seems so long ago, doesn’t it?

Still, hope springs eternal for a collectively powerful South African effort, and there was fighting talk this week from new assistant coach Adrian Birrell, who reportedly said: “I feel that a proper performance is really close.”

Big ‘un from De Villiers or not, Proteas fans will be desperately hoping he is correct ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
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