The Proteas have made a great turnaround since their Test series defeat to Sri Lanka and now hold an unassailable 3-0 lead in the ODI series. South Africa have upped their game, but the difference between the Tests and ODIs is vast and you can get away with so much more in the 50-over format.
While there have been some standout performances from non-stalwarts within the Proteas ODI set-up – Reeza Hendricks, who scored a century on debut, is a shining light, and Andile Phehlukwayo has also come good – the ODI pitches have aided and abetted the Proteas.
The visitors have been blessed with the wickets, particularly in Dambulla, which have been vastly different to the spinning-low, turning tracks they endured during the Test series. During the two Test matches, the hosts favoured low-turning, poor pitches and relied on their spin to put them in the ascendancy. However, during the ODIs, they haven’t been able to rely on their spin that much and need to bat well in order to compete.
The ODIs, played at newer stadiums on good pitches, is to the Proteas’ distinct advantage.
Less than a year out from the ICC Cricket World Cup, the Proteas’ progress in the 50-over format is a good step in the right direction. South Africa are starting to gather quite a few finishers in the middle order, which is a positive sign because it has been lacking for many years in our ODI team. The Proteas’ problem has always been to finish off matches and it has been an Achilles heel of different eras.
For argument’s sake, I firmly believe the difference between South Africa and Australia over the years has been good finishers, not better cricketers. It’s about understanding when to accelerate, when to minimise risk, when to keep the pressure on and how to finish off a game. South Africa hasn’t boasted good finishers for a long time, but JP Duminy can fulfil that role. I thought David Miller would become South Africa’s go-to finisher, but it looks like Duminy has assumed the mantle.
The 34-year-old has taken the responsibility, but I’m really saddened about Aiden Markram’s slump. I believe the latter is a critical player to have in-form going forward and has been tipped to fill the void when Hashim Amla retires. The 23-year-old has really come out of the Sri Lanka tour terribly and will be mentally scarred having been dropped after the second ODI. However, one man’s loss is another man’s gain – Hendricks is a good player and he took his opportunity with both hands.
It’s been a difficult time for Markram, who has gone backwards on the subcontinent against spin bowling. Of course, he will bounce back, but failures with the bat like the ones he has experienced leave scars… Markram got a duck in the first innings of the opening Test, followed by 19 in the second innings. In the second Test, he only managed to register seven runs in the first innings and 14 in the second. Meanwhile, he went for a duck in the first ODI and scored three runs in the second ODI. Forty-three runs scored after six innings, at an average of 7.16, really speaks to his current predicament.
In the player’s case, you return to South Africa and are left with lingering doubts as to whether you can play spin on the subcontinent. As a player, you are always confident until you experience the failures. Markram is finding out that international cricket is not a bed of roses. Hendricks is in now and, having been omitted, you start wondering: is there still a place for me within the set-up?
Competition for places is healthy, but it would have been great if Markram had come away from Sri Lanka firing and full of confidence. Sadly, it’s not the case and he now finds himself at a crossroads.
With South Africa having sealed the ODI series, there is talk of experimenting and trying different playing personnel and combinations. I would prefer the Proteas to maintain the momentum and secure a series whitewash. I believe in players earning their places and enhancing a winning culture
(Article first appeared in SA Cricket Magazine)