12 November 2013
South Africa wrapped up a 4-1 one-day international series victory over Pakistan with an emphatic 117-run win in in Sharjah on Monday. There were encouraging signs during the series that the Proteas have put their sub-standard one-day form of earlier this year behind them.
Refreshingly, the series was played on wickets that offered the bowlers something, unlike so much of the limited overs fare nowadays that heavily favours batsmen and results in slog fests. There were no totals during the series that challenged the 300-run mark, but good batting was rewarded, and AB de Villiers’ unbeaten 115 in the fifth ODI was a wonderful example of this.
De Villiers’ knock took him past 6 000 runs in ODIs, the fastest South African to achieve the mark and the third fastest to the milestone of all time, behind only Sir Viv Richards and Sourav Ganguly.
His innings demonstrated the application needed in the 50 overs a side game. It was neatly split into two halves, with De Villiers circumspect and cautious in the first half of his innings, followed by a stunning array of shots and innovation in the second half, once he had played himself in.
De Villiers was one of only two batsmen to score centuries in the series. Quinton de Kock scored the other, an impressive knock of 112 at the top of the order in South Africa’s 28-run victory in the fourth ODI. It also made him, at the age of 20 years and 326 days, the youngest South African to score an ODI century.
Some concerns still remain about the consistency of the South African batting, but the team’s totals were consistent and between 259 and 268 in the last three ODIs on challenging surfaces.
While the Proteas displayed some batting frailties, the bowlers adjusted admirably to the pitches in the United Arab Emirates and were outstanding. This is best underlined by the fact that they bowled Pakistan out in all five matches.
What the bowlers also proved is that the transition from world class test bowler to world class ODI bowler is not a big jump. World class remains world class, no matter the format.
Dale Steyn played in only two of the five matches, but he played a decisive role in both. In the third ODI, despite taking only 1 for 31 in his eight overs, he wrested the initiative away from Pakistan, slowing down their scoring and putting the batsmen under pressure, which ultimately led to a convincing 68-run victory.
In the next match, a 28-run win, he delivered a career-best return of 5 for 25 as Pakistan fell from 228 for 5 to 238 all out.
Vernon Philander, a man considered as a test bowler only by the selectors for so long, came into the team for the fifth and final ODI and asked tough questions of the Pakistanis. He removed two of the top three batsmen in order, caught the other, and finished with figures of 2 for 23 in eight overs.
While the recognised test stars showed their worth to the team, all-rounder Ryan McLaren continued to enhance his status in the limited overs side. He played a number of useful innings lower down the batting order and removed nine batsmen with his bowling to match Imran Tahir as the top wicket-taker in the South African line-up.
Leg-spinner Tahir, with his return to form, reminded South African supporters of the fantastic weapon he can be with his varied bowling in limited overs matches. He was superb in the 2011 Cricket World Cup in India and in similar conditions he was again very good.
South Africa showed a huge improvement over their performances in Sri Lanka in July, when they went down to the hosts by four matches to one and were, frankly, poor, suffering some big losses.
Top test players
The Pakistan series also made clear the importance of the Proteas’ top test performers as one-day players. Without some of the team’s leading players, they flopped in the ICC Champions Trophy in England in June and followed that up with the tepid showing in Sri Lanka.
On that subject, Jacques Kallis, who has made himself available for the 2015 Cricket World Cup, needs to see more action. For the first time in a very long time, he looked out of sorts in the Pakistan test series, and he did not play in the ODI series. The great man needs to play himself back into form because Kallis in form is a weapon that is hard to match.
For the Proteas to excel in the 2015 Cricket World Cup and to win it for the first time, there is going to have to be greater use made of the team’s top test players, like Kallis and Steyn, in the ODI game. They’re match winners and they produce the kind of performances that make the difference in the 50-over game.