Nothing more than a middle net

February 11, 2015

New Zealand 331 for 8 in 50 overs and South Africa 197 all out in 44.2 overs. Defeat for the Proteas by 134 runs.

It sounds like a thrashing and it was, but absolutely nothing should be read into the result in what was the Proteas’s final warm-up match ahead of the serious business of the World Cup.

This was nothing more than a middle net in Christchurch, a public sparring session, where being knocked down with a pillow doesn’t inflict any lasting damage. Even Manchester United have come to South Africa and lost to Kaizer Chiefs in their pre-season warm-ups.

The Proteas won’t be scarred mentally going into the World Cup and the fact they finished second in a  match that one team had to ‘lose’ won’t have affected their confidence. In fact, if anything, JP Duminy and Vernon Philander will wake up in the morning feeling as though they’re in the grove, both players looking good with the bat, Duminy scoring 80 off 98 balls and Philander 57 off 84.

If anything it will give Philander, in particular, the belief that he can grow into a genuine all rounder and someone who can make a big contribution at No8 in the batting order during the World Cup itself.

Before the game Faf du Plessis had said that ‘we aren’t very concerned with the result’ and added that the team was fully focused on their opener against Zimbabwe on Sunday. Yes, this is the same Zimbabwe who, on the very day that South Africa lost to the Kiwis, scored 281 for 3 in beating Sri Lanka.

In reacting to both warm-up results the bookmakers didn’t blink. They still have Australia as 17-10 favourites, followed by South Africa at 3-1, New Zealand 5-1, England 8-1, India 10-1, while Zimbabwe remain 500-1 outsiders, so no changes there.

However, one needs to acknowledge that New Zealand look a polished side going into the event, and it’s no fluke that they’re third favourites to win the tournament itself. One hopes against hope that we don’t hear the phrase ‘they punch above their weight’ during this World Cup because that’s an insult to the Kiwis. They are a class act, a team full of players who pull for each other and in Brendon McCullum and the exciting 24-year-old Kane Williamson (top NZ scorer on Wednesday with 66) they have two batsmen who have the ability to score big runs and are bang in form.

But, despite ‘collapsing’ to 62-6 in the 14th over in Christchurch, it’s not the batting that is the issue for the Proteas. We know how good their top-order is – in my opinion it is the best top six in the ODI format at the moment – but what we again found out is that the bowling doesn’t have the same ability and authority.

Although it was a middle net, the disturbing thing from a bowling perspective was not the fact that eight of them – part-timer Du Plessis included – leaked 331 runs to the Kiwis, but that they bowled 11 wides. Even if it was a middle net, what you do in the nets often relates to how you behave in the cauldron of competition.

And Philander, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Imran Tahir and Duminy all conceded wides on a gentle day of a practice match. Duminy conceded three in six overs, and if he is to play a significant role as the fifth bowler when the real action starts – as now seems likely that he will – he’s going to have to tighten up and not allow wides to creep into his game.

Trent Boult, the New Zealand opening bowler, took 5-51 and got the wickets of Rilee Rossouw, Du Plessis, David Miller, Duminy and Morkel and that will have made him a man to watch and do some homework on.

While they finished on the wrong side of the result, South Africa will simply want the tournament to start. There’s always that period before a big event when it feels like a case of ‘hurry up and wait’. Minds understandably drift towards the competition itself, and the players and support staff simply want to get onto the field and make it happen.

The Proteas remain my pick to bang a very deep hole in the tournament and, with that top six, they will not fear chasing anything between 280 and 320 on any given day – or setting that type of total when batting first. And that will be enough to win most games.



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