Cape Town - South Africa’s Twenty20 international game has slipped back into a state of some confusion.
It can be a fickle old format at the best of times but the Proteas, in sharing the latest mini-series against a weakened Pakistan 1-1, have surrendered some of the advances they appeared to be making in earning successive away triumphs at T20 level first in Sri Lanka and then the United Arab Emirates against their current foes.
By winning those series in Subcontinental conditions, they have at least given themselves the hope that they can be competitive at the Bangladesh-staged ICC World Twenty20 in March.
On the flip side of the coin, South Africa have strangely now produced three largely unconvincing home-soil T20 games on the trot against Pakistan stretching back to last summer, the latest being Friday’s six-run loss (the margin flattered them a tad in the final analysis) at Newlands.
It came hot on the heels of Wednesday’s fortuitous, Duckworth/Lewis-engineered win at the Wanderers, when arguably the Pakistanis slightly held the aces until the weather wrecked things.
And in the previous SA meeting between the teams near the end of the 2012/13 season, the Proteas were rolled for 100 in an embarrassing 12.2 overs and lost the lone contest by 95 runs at Centurion after a Durban washout.
As at the Bullring two days earlier, Faf du Plessis’s team struggled noticeably in the batting department on Friday to cash in on another cracking opening stand between Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock.
Taking first strike in the Johannesburg fixture, this pair posted 72 in only 7.5 overs and here it was a nearly as acceptable 58 in 7.1 overs.
But in both instances -- and at Newlands in a chasing capacity -- the Proteas somehow dug themselves deeper and deeper into a hole in terms of their quest to keep up the initially healthy tempo.
If anything, they only ensured a reasonably thrilling finish in the last couple of overs because JP Duminy, especially, and David Miller made a spirited, belated effort to pull the game from the fire after the middle period had again become too becalmed.
Mind you, huge credit must go to Pakistan’s battery of spinners – with the cunning Shahid Afridi to the fore – for the way they are somehow able to both “strangle and strike” in the T20 arena regardless of pitch conditions.
It would also be harsh to blame the South African effort at the crease too much, because even in defeat they did manage to register the third highest T20 score at the ground very shortly after Pakistan, with their 176 for four, had notched the second.
The record is still held by England, who managed 188 for nine against Zimbabwe at the maiden World Twenty20 in 2007, when Kevin Pietersen went ballistic with 79 at a strike rate of well over 200.
Unusually, the Proteas really suffered in this match because no single bowler managed to rise above a collective display of mediocrity although Dale Steyn came closest and conceded some streaky boundaries.
Another mitigating factor, perhaps, is that the Proteas shuffled their team a fair bit, clearly with the global get-together in mind: there are now only three games more (all against Australia later in the season) to complete the fine-tuning.
Pakistan producing such a gritty and urgent showing was also good news in spicing up Sunday’s first one-day international at the very same Newlands ...
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