South Africa became the number one ranked One-Day International team after the second game in the current series against England, thanks to a magnificent 150 by Hashim Amla and good all-round bowling performances. But South Africa’s reign was short lived as its top-order failed in the next two ODIs.
South Africa’s fine performances in the medium term was attributed to an excellent top order, who regularly achieved 250 runs or more and defended those totals because of the superb fast bowling by Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Morné Morkel.
During the past two One-Day Internationals, the South African top order failed to capitalise on sound opening partnerships between Amla and Graeme Smith.
In the third One-Day International, the openers managed 50 runs before the rest of the top order stuttered and South Africa slumped to 122 for four.
In the fourth One-Day International at Lord’s, the openers established another solid 68 runs before Smith was removed. The same alarming pattern unfolded and South Africa’s top order wobbled on 115 for four.
That explained why South Africa only scored 211 in the third One-Day International and 220 for eight in the fourth. England romped to a 4-wicket victory with twelve balls in the third game and emphatically won by six wickets in the fourth game, with twenty balls left in the game.
South Africa is clearly missing Jacques Kallis (at number three), whose ability to rotate the strike could have stabilised matters.
Dean Elgar battled to rotate the strike in the third One-Day International, and this had an unsettling effect on AB de Villiers.
In the fourth game, South Africa again failed to stabilise the innings after Smith’s loss.
The selectors are not helping matters by experimenting with either JP Duminy or Elgar at number three, or moving De Villiers down to five.
To make matters worse, Faf du Plessis has shown mediocre form with the bat.
It is a bit perplexing that the selectors are resting Kallis for the One-Day Internationals with the T20 Cricket World Cup only two weeks away.
It is clear that they want to extend Kallis’s international career by resting him for One-Day Internationals, but why do it when South Africa’s number one position on the world rankings in the limited format is at stake? And why is South Africa experimenting so much with the top order?
Gary Kirsten and Jonty Rhodes are on record, saying that if you want to win a World Cup, you need to have at least ten members of the team to have played in thirty One-Day Internationals as a unit.
Consistency in selection is a vital factor. It also makes little sense to select the same squad, and then shuffle the top-order around all the time.
The absence of Kallis also robs South Africa of a fifth bowler. Furthermore, Albie Morkel’s ankle injury is not easing the pressure on the Proteas, as the brittle batting tail of South Africa has been exposed by James Tredwell, Ravi Bopara and James Anderson.
South Africa will have to return to the drawing board.
England is coasting to victory without the presence of Kevin Pietersen, arguably one of the world’s finest batsmen in the limited formats.
South Africa is also experiencing some trouble against slower bowlers with the T20 World Cup on Sri Lankan soil only weeks ago. It is hardly a comforting thought for the selectors.
Rotating the strike through the inner ring and accelerating the rate will be an important factor for the South African team. But currently they are relying far too much on Amla’s prowess and Smith’s aggression and adventure.
De Villiers has had a mediocre tour of England in terms of his batting. He was the number 2 ranked One-Day International batsman in the world not too long ago, but has failed to impose himself after promising starts.
At the start of the England tour, his average in ODIs was 158. But since taking over the South African captaincy, he has struggled.
What can South Africa do to hit back at Trent Bridge in the final ODI on Wednesday?
The selectors will have to decide on the best batting line-up, and will have to give the same top-six and extended run, instead of using different personnel at number three, four and five in every game.
Dale Steyn has been the best test bowler in the world the past four years, but as a bowler in One-Day Internationals he has not had the same impact.
Ryan McLaren and Wayne Parnell have also struggled to impose themselves at this level with bat or ball.
Robin Peterson has been a lone wolf with the bat lower down and has had little support after the fall of the sixth wicket. If South Africa fails again in the fifth game, the selectors will probably look at Colin Ingram and David Miller again, while the jury might be out on Elgar.
It is not that Elgar lacks class as a batsman, but his strike rate is a source of concern and he battles to rotate the strike.
South Africa currently tends to select batsmen who all bat at the same speed.
Only De Villiers in the top five is a so-called basher who bats at a strike rate of 120 or more in ODIs. The rest of the top five are all accumulating runs instead of dominating the bowling attack and pounding the boundary ropes.
That is why Wednesday’s game will be an important one for Elgar and the struggling middle order of Duminy and Du Plessis.
If they fail again, their position may be under scrutiny for the next ODI series against Australia in November.