SA’s ‘fizzle-out’ at crease … a case for AB!

AB de Villiers (Gallo Images)
AB de Villiers (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Gutsy, admirably cool-headed - at the all-important climax - little triumph it almost indisputably was.

But the Proteas would be naïve if they thought the heart-stopping, one-run Twenty 20 international victory over England in East London was some sort of blanket “pack-up-your-troubles” event.

For one thing, the tourists will be kicking themselves for letting the match slip from their grasp after getting into a position from where they should have closed the deal comfortably in their favour.

It was a second white-ball contest with South Africa on the trot where their business-end performance – strangely for the current 50-overs World Cup champions and past winners of the T20 World Cup – failed to emulate earlier advances in the tussle.

The English had made heavy weather of winning the ODI at the Wanderers on Sunday from a once iron-grip situation and, even with a notably steelier line-up on paper for the first of three T20 fixtures at Buffalo Park on Wednesday, did so again … this time to their detriment in the result column.

Proteas head coach Mark Boucher and his assistants are suitably wily, feet-on-the-ground individuals, quite likely to drum into their currently experimental-looking SA charges that Rome remains a long, long way from being built by them in a limited-overs context.

Still, for a team infamous through decades for their capacity for “choking” when the heat is turned up, they do deserve feathers in their caps – veteran and rookie alike in the squad – for a contrasting, never-say-die spirit and composure in the “death” phases both at the Bullring and again in East London three days onward.

Does it say something, too, about some of the qualities Quinton de Kock may be bringing since his ascension to regular on-field leadership of the cause?

Maybe we need to give that department further time to develop before making a more confident judgement.

The biggest - and many would argue ongoing - problem displayed by the Proteas on Wednesday was the failure to cash in properly, batting first, on a runaway start given to them by the new and promising opening alliance of De Kock and Temba Bavuma.

Thanks to no small degree to their sprightly stroke-play and deft, scurrying rotation of strike up front, South Africa had the luxury of ending the six-over powerplay on a healthy 68 for one, and were then a rampaging 105 for one at the halfway mark of their innings.

As television commentator and former England player and coach David Lloyd observed, it should have been a catalyst for the Proteas to close on a total above the 200-mark: instead they subsided to 177 for eight – so the addition of only 72 runs in the more stuttering “second half” for the loss of seven wickets.

While part of that phenomenon was the simple fact that the English bowlers a little belatedly got to grips with the mix-it-up demands of the pitch after an ill-disciplined early onslaught, it nevertheless seemed reasonably apparent that the host nation could do with a bit more in the way of proven firepower in the middle order.

The return of Faf du Plessis (whatever some may say about him in the Test arena, still a highly significant force in white-ball cricket with stats to back that up) from a current rest period will help.

But it is also an almost inescapable fact that global crowd-puller AB de Villiers would add enormously to both oomph and staying power in that region of the SA line-up.

While argument will rage about whether it is right to reinfuse a frequently absent star figure in the build-up to a likely last personal hurrah at international level in October’s ICC T20 World Cup in Australia, De Villiers would instantly give the Proteas a much deeper sense of depth and “fear factor” to rival bowling attacks.

De Villiers is on the cusp of his 36th birthday (next week) but his form on the T20 franchise competition circuit remains compelling enough – he smashed 71 off 37 balls in his second-last innings of the Big Bash League for Brisbane Heat late last month – and he would automatically also become of the Proteas’ premier fielders despite his advancing age if he does return to action for them soon.

Former national captain Shaun Pollock said in SuperSport commentary on Wednesday that he felt De Villiers slotting into a berth within the top four would enhance the prospect of power-striker David Miller becoming more of a dedicated “finisher” again, rather than occasionally having to bat with a sense of circumspection at first because of rebuild or stabilising requirements …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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