Zimbabwe to kick-start SA’s World Cup charge
● Today marks exactly seven months until SA face England in the opening Cricket World Cup match at the Oval.
The fact that SA are hosting Zimbabwe in the first of three ODIs in Kimberley could be seen as folly considering the northern neighbours won’t be part of the showpiece.
However, it is the first of 16 matches Ottis Gibson will have to shape what remains of his World Cup picture.
What appeared on the canvas after the first three Sri Lanka ODIs was decent but the last set of results again set pulses racing even though the series was comfortably won.
Sri Lanka will be SA’s last ODI engagement in a fivematch series in March before the England game but middle-time is exactly that, regardless of the strength of the
SA’s middle order has a reputation for wilting under the fierce heat of pressure
Sri Lanka were below-par in the Asia Cup where they didn’t make the Super Four while Pakistan naturally blew hot and cold.
What those sides will do is to again test SA’s efficiency against spin bowling and a batting department that was repeatedly shown up by India earlier this year. But there’s the matter of navigating a Zimbabwean side that’s not strong, but one that should afford some second stringers some much needed game time.
It does make sense that Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla skip this series with a three-match ODI meeting with Australia looming in November.
Dale Steyn has to work himself back to a decent international bowling steam despite reasonable showings for Hampshire in England and Sri Lanka, while Dean Elgar slots into the batting puzzle created by AB de Villiers’s surprise retirement.
Elgar’s selection was always going to raise eyebrows with memories floating back to 2015 when he slotted in as a replacement in an ODI against India while Khaya Zondo was already with the team, but Elgar has decent List A numbers.
A school of thought has also enquired about Temba Bavuma’s usability as a limited-overs batsman that’s backed up by a century on debut against Ireland two years ago. It is a reasonable call and a decision that Gibson will have to make in the course of the 16 ODIs between now and March 16 when the fifth ODI against Sri Lanka in Cape Town concludes.
There are contests within contests with the likes of Reeza Hendricks staking serious claims and questions being asked of David Miller.
SA’s middle order has a reputation for wilting under the fierce heat of pressure and that’s something that requires urgent rectification.
The 10-team World Cup will use the highly successful 1992 format in which every team plays against each other and all the weaknesses will be exposed. Only the top four teams will contest play-off spots in what is a user-friendly and practical format.
The Zimbabwe series does look like the series of class exercises ahead of the controlled tests later in the summer ahead of the month-long exam in the UK. Whether SA will be adequately prepared will be seen then, but the seed laying begins today.