Sun, 18 Aug 2019

The day Proteas' gearstick jammed

20 Jan 2019, 15:37 GMT+10

Cape Town - An unusually one-paced hallmark to their innings, after enjoying first strike, will go down as the salient feature of South Africa's five-wicket defeat to Pakistan in the first one-day international at St George's Park on Saturday.

They found what might be termed breezy third gear quickly enough, but getting to vital fourth - or power-fifth - was problematic on a quirky old day for the host nation where seven of their batsmen didn't even get to take guard.

It was just the second time when the Proteas have batted first, for example, in his 125 ODIs that current captain Faf du Plessis (in a completed match) has not taken guard.

The first was the famous January 2015 encounter with West Indies at the Wanderers, the big difference then being that South Africa plundered a record 439 for two with centuries from all of Hashim Amla, Rilee Rossouw ... and AB de Villiers' unforgettable 149 off 44 balls.

Here, and admittedly on a Port Elizabeth track that is never the quickest you'll see, the Proteas ended with 266 for two ... it looked suspiciously like an undercooked total, and it would later be proved that despite the best efforts of the bowlers to defend it.

Meaningful acceleration was hard to come by as the sands trickled out on SA's knock, despite beefy innings from both the re-emerging Amla (108 not out) and debutant Rassie van der Dussen (93), who were together between the 18th and early 47th overs and put on 155 for the second wicket.

At least partly because of the welcome discipline and gumption of the Pakistani attack as a collective, boundaries failed to flow toward and in the "death" overs for the Proteas and by the time the traditionally hard-hitting David Miller got to the middle, it was really too late for him to be hugely effective.

The failure to get a proper crack-on was reflected in television commentary by bemused visiting English pundit Mark Nicholas at an advanced stage of the Proteas' innings: "42nd over, nine wickets in hand ... and still they're knocking the singles around."

Yet based on evidence on paper, it is not that straightforward to specifically finger either of Amla or Van der Dussen - the latter now sports the distinction of half-centuries on both Twenty20 international and ODI first appearance - for South Africa ending short of where they would have wished; former skipper Shaun Pollock later said he felt they were anywhere between 20 or 40 runs shy of registering a safer total.

Amla's 27th century, after all, was achieved at a strike rate of 90 - he has scored faster in many, but also more sedately in several others - and Van der Dussen fired at a similarly not shabby rate of 92.

Perhaps it should really have been the rookie's job, once he had gone past 50 and at very least laid down a marker of his abilities at this level, to hit the hammer earlier - to start taking more pronounced chances in pursuit of more agreeable volleys of fours and sixes at a ground noted for some smallish boundaries.

He is, remember, a renowned fierce striker of the ball, something evident during his prolific success for Jozi Stars in the Mzansi Super League just a few weeks back.

On the plus side, Van der Dussen showed decent temperament, even if he was notably more convincing against the Pakistani seamers than their slower bowlers - leg-spinner Shadab Khan tied him up quite effectively.

An intriguing tussle may develop over the next few weeks between all of him, Reeza Hendricks (though he opened on Saturday, in Quinton de Kock's absence) and Aiden Markram for the key No 3 spot at the World Cup.

As for Amla, he may have relied much more on ones and twos than boundaries for his runs in the Friendly City (his first ODI ton there) but he only continues to look increasingly again like the resilient customer of old, cutting concentration lapses to a bare minimum and looking untroubled a lot of the time.

Just getting the veteran run-machine back into a consistent groove - it was his first three-figure score in 13 ODI innings - is a huge positive with CWC 2019 in mind, regardless of how some critics may choose to analyse his contribution to Saturday's losing cause.

Maybe it is not the worst thing, either, after their one-sided, sometimes unsubtle bullying of the tourists in the Test series, that the Proteas find themselves 1-0 down and needing to win three of the next four 50-overs matches to snatch the trophy in that arena.

Call it an intensifying World Cup trial ...

*Follow our chief writer: @RobHouwing

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