Proteas: No 3 stays headache

Jacques Kallis (AFP)
Jacques Kallis (AFP)

Cape Town – Several slightly insecure links in the line-up tightened nicely as South Africa muscled their way to a richly-deserved one-day international series triumph over No 1-ranked India over the last few days.

We will never know whether the Proteas would have managed a 3-0 clean sweep as the dead-rubber final contest was cut short by rain at Centurion on Wednesday, but not before centuries from captain AB de Villiers and the quite sensational Quinton de Kock (he clinched a hat-trick of them) had ensured the Indians would have to chase more than 300 for a consolation result in their favour.

What could not be doubted at all was the startling level of series dominance of the host nation, who dramatically put behind them the hiccup of crashing 2-1 to Pakistan only a few days before these hostilities began.

South Africa do look a team for whom the pieces are coming together once more – conveniently a year before another World Cup -- and it was a bit of a shame that the Highveld elements conspired to prevent an opportunity to gauge whether the bowling attack could look as frisky in the absence of major weapons of destruction Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.

But there is a good cupboard of bowling depth, an expanding arsenal of genuinely world-class batting, and a very obvious commitment to restoring famous old Rhodes- and Gibbs-like standards of fielding and catching efficiency.

A pleasant extra string to the bow on Wednesday, not too long before the heavens opened, was specialist finisher David Miller belting an unbeaten 56 off only 34 deliveries, despite a concerted attempt by the Indian bowlers to cramp his style with plenty of yorker-length deliveries.

It has been a pretty lean trot by the left-hander, who had not gone past 50 in 12 previous innings, but he was back to his best as a savage striker of the ball – he found gaps in the outfield very well and is a master of the fast, flat-trajectory six – and as there aren’t too many obvious candidates like him in the No 6 area in the order, it would have been a great relief to the Proteas’ brains trust to see him prosper.

One department stays a thorny issue: the important No 3 batting berth.

At SuperSport Park, South Africa gave Henry Davids another opportunity but he indelicately jabbed lanky Ishant Sharma to second slip for just one as the Proteas subsided to 28 for three before the man they are justifiably calling “Quin-Ton” and skipper De Villiers completely turned the innings’ fortunes around.

There is probably a case for arguing that this was only Davids’ second ODI appearance, so further chances to show his mettle should not be discounted.

I see things a little differently, considering that it has been a dreadful calendar year in limited-overs cricket broadly for him in SA colours: to add to his ODI scores of one and seven, he has had six Twenty20 international knocks in 2013 and registered these totals: 7, 1, 7, 0, 0 and 3.

That is eight innings and an average of three.

If he was a young gun finding his way, an atmosphere of greater patience should rightly prevail, but the Titans customer -- who usually shines domestically, it is true – will turn 34 in a few weeks.

Under those circumstances, surely the time has come to see whether there isn’t another De Kock-like proper investment for the future out there? Players like Stiaan van Zyl and Rilee Rossouw quickly come to mind.

The Proteas have struggled to get really major, consistent runs out of a No 3 in recent times: Colin Ingram has had opportunities (though remember that his failures this year largely came as an opener, and he does boast two ODI centuries as a No 3) and the same applies to JP Duminy.

Neither really nailed it down – Duminy looks much more tailor-made for No 5 -- and the return to the ODI fray of the legendary Jacques Kallis has not yet inspiringly fixed the problem either.

Frankly, the situation around 38-year-old Kallis, so massively proven an individual over many years, seems clouded in confusion: does he really aspire to prolonging his career in the format to another World Cup in Australasia in 2015?

 If so, withdrawing him for the third ODI against India in order for him to “prepare for the Test series” was an odd move, considering that he is short of high-level runs this season – he no longer seems to play franchise cricket? – and Centurion seemed ideal for him to knuckle down for a major knock against several bowlers he could encounter again at the Wanderers next week.

Yes, No 3 looks a tad too unsettled for the Proteas ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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