Paarl – It has been a conspicuously bad summer for the supposedly next-in-line cricketers for the Proteas.
The South Africa A side were beaten for the third time on England’s 2015/16 safari to these shores, in a Twenty20 fixture here on Wednesday night, succumbing by 44 runs before a healthy crowd on the grassed banks of balmy Boland Park.
At least there were flickering signs of a decent contest at times, in contrast to the previous meetings during the tour – a thrashing by an innings and 91 runs in a first-class match at Pietermaritzburg, and no less worrisome reverse by 163 runs in a 50-overs encounter in Kimberley.
It wasn’t too many years ago that SA ‘A’ sides would pride themselves in either giving visiting teams a serious run for their money or actually beating them, so this trio of setbacks will do little to subdue a mounting theory that the domestic game is struggling at present for both quality and depth.
This was probably the “best” showing by the second-stringers against the English -- yet they still landed well short of a demanding target of 203.
That they avoided outright humiliation on this occasion was primarily down to a breezy second-wicket alliance of 88 runs in 10.2 overs between the young Titans right-hander Theunis de Bruyn (56) and his almost 37-year-old skipper Morne van Wyk (32).
Once they were separated, however, the innings gradually regressed, not helped by failures from two senior Proteas stalwarts, David Miller and Farhaan Behardien.
De Bruyn played some resounding drives as he negotiated 38 balls, and could feel chuffed to have come off against England again, having scored an unbeaten 73 in the Kimberley clash.
The England innings of 202 for six had been notable for meaty contributions from two batsmen who experienced rather contrasting fortunes in the recent one-day international series.
Their brains trust may have quietly viewed opener Alex Hales’s authoritative 78 off 52 deliveries as more of a curse than a blessing, given that his form is hardly in doubt and by staying at the wicket into the 16th over, he slightly limited the opportunity for more needy members of the touring party to get in for significant vigils.
Still, he ended up notching a remarkable sixth knock of 50 or more in a row; this came on top of his scores of 112, 50, 65, 99 and 57 in the ODIs, where he was fittingly named player of the series despite ending on the losing side.
Captain Eoin Morgan could only have yearned for such a stellar sequence over the past couple of weeks – he failed to reach double figures in any of the last three contests and had a wretched personal series as a whole – but in a whirlwind stay at the Paarl crease he found some short-lived but positively pyrotechnic mojo.
The left-hander blasted 42 off 13 balls, including five mostly cleanly-struck sixes, and found the left-arm seam fare of Beuran Hendricks (not the talented Cape Cobras star’s most productive game as he leaked 50 off three overs) particularly to his liking on a good, true pitch which made front-foot play very inviting.
Amidst the relative chaos, ICC World Twenty20-bound Aaron Phangiso did some pretty good pull-back work after an expensive first over, whilst Dolphins all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo, 19, also kept credible control.
But the standout bowler was that enduring enigma Wayne Parnell, who registered 4-0-26-3 on an otherwise sitting-duck sort of day for faster bowlers and produced a really exemplary closing over of the English innings.
Showing good composure and mix-it-up skill, Parnell only conceded four runs and grabbed two scalps into the bargain.
England play the first of two KFC T20 internationals against the Proteas at Newlands on Friday.
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