Proteas have room to improve

Pat Symcox (Supplied)
Pat Symcox (Supplied)

The first World Cup hurdle was adequately cleared by the Proteas. Zimbabwe showed some real grit right the way through, but history will reflect that, in the end, the margin of victory by South Africa was in fact quite substantial.

That said, there’s much that needs to be taken out from the victory and dissected. It would be naive in the extreme if AB de Villiers and his management group didn’t take cognisance of a few disturbing little nuances that they don’t want to see happening again too often.

The pitch in the first quarter of the game was slow and suited the Zimbabwe-type bowlers.

All credit to Dav Whatmore’s men for making sure they bowled as straight as possible and hit a length that didn’t allow our batsmen to drive. Both Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock clearly realized very early on in the innings that trying to go over the top wasn’t the right option. Sadly, however, the latter perished to the exact issue that the pair had recognized.

Once the track quickened up, the entire game changed course and we saw how easy it suddenly became for David Miller and JP Duminy, for instance, to the rotate strike and to drive down the ground – something that was difficult to do for the first period of the match.

However, the concern was that by the time the pitch had dried out, the Proteas had already lost too many wickets and found themselves on the brink of disaster. On this occasion, they managed to get away with it, because the depth of the Zimbabwe bowling attack doesn’t allow them to sustain pressure throughout an innings and close out when the situation demands. I believe that’s why our African neighbours are ranked tenth in the ODI format.

The message from the openers had to have been that it wasn’t easy out in the middle and that caution was required. They also had to have known that if they could get through the tough little period with wickets in-hand, they could exploit the poor quality death bowling. That message wasn’t heard clearly enough and we lost wickets as a result. It’s a lesson.

On the bowling front, I felt Vernon Philander was the one stand-out man. He was able to slot into his comfort zone quickly, but the rest of the bowling unit looked ring-rusty. Morne Morkel battled to find the right length from the start, as did Dale Steyn. It almost seemed as if it was the first game of the season, with a few overs needed to get into the groove.

It allowed Zimbabwe’s batsmen to score to freely in the early part of their innings, and it created unnecessary pressure on the captain and fielding unit. We know that Steyn and Morkel are quality performers, but bowling coach Allan Donald will need to find a way to ensure his bowlers don’t slip into that mode again. Stronger opposition will take the game away and put more pressure on the bowlers that follow. It’s another lesson to learn.

The much-discussed number seven spot went to Farhaan Behardien against Zimbabwe. I could understand the selection in some way, because of the nature of pitches that are often encountered in New Zealand. Low and slow pitches will allow him to bowl little ‘dobblers’ and make batsmen work hard, with the wicket-keeper standing up. However, once the pitch flattens out and becomes a good batting strip, I believe he is largely negated as a threat.

We saw the above scenario occur and he battled. My thinking is that when looking at his batting statistics over a period of time, they don’t stand out dramatically against someone who is a bowling specialist that can bat fairly well. I would rather go with the latter option and employ Duminy as the batting all-rounder to give me a few overs. On his day, I might add, he’s quite capable of doing the spin bowling job if the pitch turns a little.

It’s another point of discussion for the management team as they head to the MCG to face reigning champions, India.

Looking ahead to the Indian challenge, we need to remember that a good few of them had been touring that country for a few months prior to the World Cup and have adjusted well to those conditions. Their strength lies in their top-order setting up the innings for the likes of MS Dhoni. We have to bowl well right from the outset and back it up with top fielding.

The MCG is a tough ground on which to defend. Running well between wickets can prove the difference in a close game. In terms of the latter aspect, I feel the Proteas hold the aces.

Former South Africa international Pat Symcox played at the 1996 Cricket World Cup, and is a self-proclaimed cricket fanatic, struggling golfer and addicted writer.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.
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