Defeat to New Zealand in Christchurch showed that the Proteas still have much to rectify in the lead-up to the Champions Trophy.
In a sense, the Proteas needed to get this loss out of the way. From hereon in, South Africa can and should be judged by their performances and not by how many matches they have won in succession.
The Proteas should be looking to peak in the Champions Trophy this June. They need to fine-tune their game and settle on a well balanced combination that can go into that high-pressure tournament with more conviction than hope that the title is theirs to lose.
The Proteas’ failure to claim that 13th win may not be such a bad thing if it forces the players and coaches to continue striving towards a better brand of cricket. They won’t be distracted by further talk of a streak and where it sees them placed in relation to other great South African ODI teams. A long awaited ICC trophy win will, however, reignite that debate.
There’s reason to feel both encouraged and concerned in the lead-up to that all-important tournament. An analysis of the past 13 games shows that the younger and less experienced players have made game-winning contributions and that the team has not relied so heavily on three or four individuals as it did in the past. This has to be viewed as a sign of growth.
However, there have been moments over the past five months when senior players have failed to take control of a situation. The match against New Zealand in Christchurch was a clear case in point.
Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis have featured in every one of the past 13 games. De Kock has scored 731 runs during this period at an average of 56.23, while Du Plessis has contributed 706 runs at 58.83.
David Miller (eight) and AB De Villiers (seven) have featured in fewer games due to their respective injuries, but have still averaged an impressive 88 and 63.25 respectively. Hashim Amla (38) and JP Duminy (36.50) have been less dominant, but as a group, the senior core has powered the Proteas to some mammoth totals.
The performances of the lower-order have also caught the eye. Andile Phehlukwayo has boosted the Proteas to a couple of narrow wins with his cool hitting, while Chris Morris and Dwaine Pretorius have made notable contributions towards the end of an innings. The Proteas certainly aren’t short on players who can swing for the fences in the final overs.
Yet, De Villiers himself made a key point in the wake of the defeat to New Zealand. The top order may have powered South Africa to some big scores over the past five months, but there have been instances where the senior men have let the game slip and the lower order have been asked to spare the team’s blushes. Indeed, this was what transpired in the first ODI in Hamilton. After a middle order collapse, it was left to Morris and Phehlukwayo to help De Villiers perform a minor miracle at the very end.
This five-game series against New Zealand will serve as excellent preparation for the Champions Trophy. The conditions in New Zealand may be very different to those in England, but the nature of the contests in the Land of the Long White Cloud will be close to what the Proteas will experience in the coming knockout tournament.
The Kiwis, as we’ve witnessed in the first couple of ODIs and in a famous World Cup semi-final played not long ago, are fiercely competitive. For the first time in five months, the Proteas have been taken out of their comfort zone. South Africa have been placed under pressure and asked to fight back.
They passed this test in Hamilton and so nearly came through the scrap in Christchurch with another win. They should take a lesson from those batting performances, though.
More application is needed in the middle overs. It may encourage them to know that the likes of Phehlukwayo, Pretorius, and Morris can hit a long ball, but these players can’t be expected to make major contributions on a regular basis.
Of course, it remains to be seen if the Proteas will solve their bowling problems before the Champions Trophy. Good bowling at the death is more important than ever in an era where batting teams look to score 80 to 100 runs in the final 10 overs of an ODI contest. It’s been an Achilles heel of the Proteas for some time.
It should have concerned Russell Domingo and company to see South Africa leaking 86 runs in the final 10 overs at Seddon Park, even more so given the slowness of the pitch. The wicket at the Hagley Oval wasn’t much better, but the Proteas still conceded 89 runs between overs 40 and 50.
South Africa need to use the remaining ODI matches in this series to find solutions. While they’ve come a long way over the past five months, they still have some way to go in their development.
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