Proteas bowling ‘flawed’
CAPE TOWN — If danger signs can flicker against a relative minnow, then perhaps South Africa would be wise to address their shortcomings for the looming encounter with a co-superpower.
The risky lack of depth to their bowling resources was highlighted once again as they made heavy weather of subduing gutsy neighbours Zimbabwe in a World Cup Pool B opener for both sides at Hamilton on Sunday.
Senior player Dale Steyn sportingly tweeted (@Dalesteyn62) afterwards: “Well played by our African neighbours ... tough buggers!”
In the end the Proteas prevailed by 62 runs, but there were anxious moments along the way for them, first at the crease and then in the field.
It may be no bad thing: they have sometimes in the past been guilty of steaming along like a Japanese bullet train in early group play at World Cups, only to subside when it is most inopportune toward the business end.
At least they will be well aware there are areas to brush up on significantly for next Sunday’s meeting with the more heavyweight India at Melbourne Cricket Ground (05:30 SA time).
The batting wobble is arguably of much less concern: it is extremely rare these days for the “big two”, AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla, to compile only 36 runs between them in a one-day international, and the very fact that the Proteas could recover from the collective top-order peril of 83 for four to total 339 without further loss is a sign of growing maturity and composure in that department.
Those qualities were evident in abundance from respective centurions David Miller and JP Duminy, who have got their personal tournaments off with a deafening bang.
Their unbroken fifth-wicket stand of 256 in only 29.4 overs becomes the third highest for any wicket at a World Cup, eclipsed only by India’s Ganguly-dravid alliance of 318 (for India v Sri Lanka, second wicket, Taunton 1999) and the Lankans’ own 282 (Tharanga-dilshan, first wicket, Pallekele 2011) against the very Zimbabweans who have taken renewed stick from a different pair four years on.
The 25-year-old Miller is now blossoming massively in the 50-overs format, revelling in a higher posting in the order and having registered his first two ODI centuries (both unbeaten) in his 62nd and 64th appearance respectively – his average is suddenly nosing so much closer to the 40-mark at 38.18.
He is combining his trademark clean, long hitting – he threatened the walls both of a funeral parlour and doughnut hut among other structures on Sunday -- with ever-tightening technique and intelligence in batsmanship.
Duminy, meanwhile, has already boasted those attributes for some time, and this was merely further evidence of his willingness to take charge of a situation when the chips are down; the pair rotated strike beautifully in their productive stint together.
But if the Proteas have some stubborn snags in their makeup, they come to the fore more painfully on the bowling front, where the presence of Farhaan Behardien as the fourth seam option with his dibbly-dobbly fare still serves up more question marks than ticks.
He wasn’t too glaringly the worst performer in an inconsistent overall showing by the SA attack, in fairness, as even the highly-touted Steyn was some way off his A-game against Zimbabwe at Seddon Park and should prefer a much pacier track – hopefully – at the MCG.
But if Behardien is going to leak 40 runs in five overs against a side as moderate as Zimbabwe in slower, gripping conditions, it doesn’t seem to bode well for how the Indian strokeplayers may target him across the Tasman in Australia.
There are already the anticipated signs that this will be another difficult tournament for the most accomplished and well-rounded of bowling line-ups, never mind ones featuring essentially parttime and thus more vulnerable elements like Behardien.
Concerns about the potential weakening on paper of the Proteas’ tail, if they were to sacrifice him for Wayne Parnell or Kyle Abbott, are understandable.
But perhaps Vernon Philander’s ability to be at least resilient at the crease are underestimated by management and if, say, he and Parnell were the seven and eight it wouldn’t be the worst situation in the world.
Besides, if anything South Africa’s trumpeted frontline batsmen are likely only to be better collectively next time out after the early woes experienced against the Zimbabweans, and they may get away with fielding a fluffy tail against an Indian attack which is that team’s weaker suit than its own batting.
India saw off fierce rivals Pakistan more convincingly on paper on Sunday than the Proteas subdued Zimbabwe; there can be no room for any weak links in De Villiers’s side next weekend.
“Back to the drawing board” is probably too dramatic a statement, but there are a few holes in the SA fence yet to close up ... Upcoming fixtures 20 Feb: New Zealand v England 21 Feb: Pakistan v West Indies, Australia v Bangladesh. 22 Feb: Afghanistan v Sri Lanka, India v South Africa. — Sport24
David Miller (left) and JP Duminy rescued the Proteas against Zimbabwe on Sunday.