Tom Sizeland highlights five talking points ahead of the Proteas’ Tri-Nation series clash against Australia on Sunday.
MOMENTUM SHIFT & 200 UP FOR AB
The Proteas went into Wednesday at the bottom of the Tri-Nation series standings. They finished the day at the top, such is the way the results have see-sawed so far. The 139-run victory over West Indies was their most clinical win in a long time, and what a difference one match makes, as they go into this clash against Australia full of confidence with both bat and ball. Generally speaking, the bowling has been very good from SA in this series. The batsmen finally came to the party, too. Hashim Amla is the highest run-scorer in the tournament now with 225 @ 56.25, and his partnership with Quinton de Kock, who scored a patient 71, was backed up by a more muscular 64-run stand between Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers, who will be playing in his 200th ODI for the Proteas. The Australians will provide a different challenge with the likes of Mitchell Starc and the rapidly improving Adam Zampa, but they lost their previous match in disappointing fashion to the Windies, so it’s the Proteas who have the psychological edge.
ON TO BARBADOS
The Kensington Oval is the third and final stop in the triangular series, playing host to its first international in over a year, when West Indies beat England to draw their Test series in May 2015. It’s the first ODI, however, since 2011, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how the conditions might play out. It’s generally made a name for itself as a fast and bouncy track that favours the batsmen, but Robin Peterson, a commentator for this series, enjoyed plenty of success with the Barbados Tridents here in the Caribbean Premier League last year. Don’t expect too much of a horses-for-courses approach for this leg – all three sides should go for similar lineups to the ones they fielded in St Kitts. The last time the Proteas played here they dismantled England by nine wickets in the 2007 World Cup Super Eights, with Andrew Hall picking up career-best figures of 5-18.
On a pitch that favours pace and bounce, will Morne Morkel finally get a chance in this series? It was just over a year ago that South Africa had Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morkel leading the pace attack in the World Cup. The only man that remains is Morkel, and if there’s ever a time to give him a go, it will be in this match, with Kagiso Rabada due a rest after a couple of indifferent performances. Wayne Parnell is growing with confidence as he integrates himself back into the team, and together with Chris Morris, you have a more-than-capable trio leading the line, even if it’s just for one match.
I think the thing that would have pleased the Proteas the most in that dominant victory over the Windies was the attacking threat their spinners posed. The pacemen had a bit of an off day, but Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi took control of proceedings as soon as they were introduced. Of course, I don’t need to go into too much detail about Tahir’s record-breaking performance, but Tahir took the attention off how well Shamsi bowled. The Windies couldn’t pick out the variations, and it was frustrating for the hosts, which led to the likes of Denesh Ramdin and Johnson Charles giving their wickets away. It was a bold move picking such attacking spinners together, but it paid off and the control of Aaron Phangiso wasn’t missed, which might leave him struggling to get a game again.
David Warner’s absence from their four-wicket defeat last week was exposed, as they failed to show attacking intent without him. To be fair, Usman Khawaja and Steve Smith were both boosted one spot up the order and they put on a brilliant 170-run stand, but they did that at respective strike rates of 79.67 and 77.89, which prevented them from getting anywhere close to 300. Aaron Finch has been extremely off the boil, his 26 runs per match going at a strike rate of 64.19. With Warner at the top of the order, scoring quickly is all they know. Now they need to find that from somewhere else, on a pitch that is expected to be batting-friendly. Are they going to get that further down the order from the erratic form of George Bailey and Mitchell Marsh? The Proteas will fancy their chances.