It was a step in the right direction when CSA arranged two ODI games against Zimbabwe to ensure that the Protea’s didn’t start cold against England, a mistake they’d previously made against Australia and prior to the Champions Trophy. While this was a belated but positive move none the less perhaps that Protea’s could have made better use of these two games, which were both won comfortably, as expected.
They did manage to give run outs to fringe, returning and new players, with the likes of Tsotsobe, Langeveld, Alviro Peterson and debutant Ryan McLaren playing. While ensuring that everyone got a run out and got at least one competitive game under their belts before the big England series, perhaps the Protea’s management did miss an opportunity for a bit of experimentation.
While South Africa have been the most consistent team, statistically at least, over the last few years, they have been accused of being too predictable, with this being their undoing in ICC events, and knock out matches. The bowling in particular came under intense scrutiny following the team’s poor showing in the Champions Trophy. South Africa’s winning formula had been built around a rigid batting line up, with 1-11 sticking to their assigned positions, and the batting powerplay being saved for the final 10 overs with Albie Morkel’s big hitting being held back for the powerplay. The bowling generally unfolds as rigidly as the batting, with opening bowlers, Steyn and Parnell being followed by Kallis and Morkel, and then the spin twins of Botha and van der Merwe bowling the middle overs, hoping to tie down the batsman, before Steyn returns for a couple of overs at the ball change, and Parnell returning at the death. While this static formula of batting and bowling has proved successful in bi-lateral series, most notably home and away against Australia, it is easy to prepare against, as there are generally no surprises. Both Sri Lanka and England capitalised on this in the Champions Trophy, scoring over 300 batting first and managing to defend their scores. Predictability has been the bane of South African cricket.
So we were told that things were looked at and would change in the future, with South Africa taking the next two years to prepare for the 2011 World Cup. An ideal chance to try news things would have been these two “warm up” games against Zimbabwe. While the personal changed, and new aspects were debuted, such as Kallis moving up to open, a position he will occupy against England, there was no real spark or imagination in the tactics. McLaren debuted, Langeveld returned, Tsotsobe got a chance to open, and Peterson came in at number 5, a role he has been earmarked for, and not his natural opening position. But where was the experimentation? The batting line up and bowling was still rigid and formulaic, and aspects spoken about did not come out. We were told that Boucher was batting too high at 6, and the batting line up would thus be addressed. And so in the first game Boucher came in at 4 – and struggled. Math must not be a strong point for the selectors, a toddler could tell you that 4 is higher than 6. Boucher is a good batsman, and has a record to back that up, but he is a finisher, and his game is not made for batting at 4. Kallis did open, and de Villiers and Duminy each moved up one, and all three produced, but this was not an experiment, that is the roles that they will occupy for the England series. Morkel, who’s bowling has struggled over the season, was told he’d move up one, to 6, and play as a batsman who could bowl, and not be burdened with having to bowl 10 overs. It’s fair enough ensuring the de Villiers and Duminy get batting time, but we all know what they are capable of. Morkel should have been pushed up the order and given the responsibility of building an innings. It should have been him at 4 and not Boucher. The world knows about Morkel’s destructive hitting, but to fully utilise it he should be coming in earlier so that he can set himself, before launching. He can’t be expected to only bat for the last 6 overs and hit from ball one. The likes of India have fully exploited the big hitting of Dhoni and Afridi, using them as floaters as the situation is presented. The have been proactive and reactive and not predictable.
If South Africa is to break their major trophy drought these things must be considered. It’s all good having the best team and the best individuals, but if they are not utilised according to situations and strengths they are being wasted. Predictability has cost South Africa time and time again. Predictably the Protea’s did not experiment in their two warm up games. They’ve moved forward in recognising the need to arrange games to ensure they don’t start a big series cold, but some things haven’t changed – and maybe it’s time they did.
pic from cricinfo.com