Especially minus the important input of Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis, there isn’t too much to hugely enthuse over in the bowling department either, but the crux of the Proteas’ problems – following their heavy, series-deciding defeat to Sri Lanka in Pallekele on Sunday - still appears to lie primarily at the crease right now.
At least the last five ODIs in a row have seen AB de Villiers’s team misfire rather severely on the batting front, going a long way to explain why only one victory (Friday’s third ODI against the Lankans) has been achieved in the period.
The jitters began in the ICC Champions Trophy semi-final reverse at the hands of England at The Oval when 175 all out, after taking first strike, seemed bad enough - but it had to be weighed even more damningly in the context of the shameful 80 for eight before a defiant rescue remedy of sorts from swashbuckling David Miller and Rory Kleinveldt.
Then came the first ODI of the current tour in Colombo, when the host nation made a massive early psychological statement by rolling the Proteas for 140 in a crushing triumph.
South Africa could only assemble 104 for five (21 overs) in another lost cause during the admittedly weather-curtailed second clash, and there were plenty of batting warts visible even in the admirably gritty win at Pallekele on Friday - remember that the Proteas were a wobbly 148 for six before Miller’s onslaught (a career-best 85 not out) propelled them to an ultimately decisive 223 for seven.
The visitors were in with a promising chance in Sunday’s back-to-back fixture there of advancing to a total of around 280 from a bright foundation of 118 at the fall of the second wicket - but lost all their remaining scalps for the addition of only 120 runs to give Sri Lanka just the sniff they needed to close out the series with one contest still to play on Wednesday.
Particularly alarming was the continued failure of most of the team’s less experienced troops (even though several now boast a considerable enough tally of caps, it must be said) to slug it out properly for the cause.
While it was heartening to see JP Duminy come off in the No 3 slot, via his 97 that combined both initial watchfulness and then slick late-charge boundary hitting, and fit-again “machine” Hashim Amla weigh in with a marvellously crisp 77, these are proven customers in the SA mix anyway, who sport 103 and 75 ODI appearances respectively.
De Villiers himself is another senior trooper who has unusually under-delivered in this series, but can nevertheless be considered to fall very much into the “class is permanent” theory and will doubtless be back with a bang sooner rather than later.
Still desperately awaited, however, are genuinely game-influencing and/or consistent contributions from a battery of precariously-placed players like Faf du Plessis, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock, Colin Ingram and Alviro Petersen.
Several of these (the fresh-faced, 20-year-old De Kock is an obvious exception, and from whom growth pains in unfamiliar climes at this level are inevitable) have been on the domestic scene for many years now and are also far from strangers to the green SA limited-overs shirt, yet stop well short of being “must picks” in the present environment.
Their collective uncertainty makes it hard for the team strategists to compellingly identify not only what the best ODI specialist batting line-up really is, but also in which order to place them: there’s a bit of a musical chairs going on, with Ingram and Petersen out of immediate favour but probably still close to recall because of the stuttering displays of others.
Of course the knee-jerk reaction of many observers is to shout out various names of stroke-players they reckon provide solutions out of domestic cricket, but even that is a questionable exercise.
So often minus the presence these days of the best-quality international performers, the franchise arena is of increasingly limited gravitas (though I agree there are few other accurate barometers for selection) and just another snag is that the iffy group of incumbents highlighted are, indeed, traditionally leading lights in that fold anyway.
It is also all too easy to lament the unavailability, for different reasons, of veteran combatants Kallis and Graeme Smith, given they are hardly long-term saviours: hopefully we will see some belated fruits, and pretty soon, from the toughening times being endured by less seasoned individuals who have had to step into the void.
To some extent, I am with the selectors in holding out hope that the group in which they have pinned present hopes will, eventually, come of age and be able to look back one day with a philosophical smile on their 2013 angst.
Still, here are some statistics, for four under-performing Proteas batsmen, that don’t make particularly palatable reading and may force the wise men into altering their loyalty before the next challenge against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates in October and November:
Faf du Plessis
ODI caps: 41
Highest score: 72
Strike rate: 89.31
Last 5 innings (from most recent): 23, 16, 8, 4, 26
ODI caps: 21
Highest score: 80
Strike rate: 82.62
Last 5 innings: 8, 24, 29, 6, 6
ODI caps: 29
Highest score: 124
Strike rate: 82.41
Last 5 innings: 0, 0, 73, 20, 6
ODI caps: 10
Highest score: 58
Strike rate: 87.24
Last 5 innings: 0, 2, 35, 1, 6no
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