Pakistan in South Africa 2012-13 March 7, 2013

South Africa abandon one-day experiments


Like a scientist who has decided his analysis has run its course, Gary Kirsten declared the exploratory phase for South Africa's one-day squad over as they begin preparations for their series against Pakistan.

The five-match rubber is the last outing the team will have before they travel to England for the Champions Trophy in June. From the outside it seems South Africa have much work to do if they hope to bring back ICC silverware but Kirsten is convinced they have the base from which to build and the time for trials is over.

"The players that are in this squad are the best players in the country. That's why they're selected. We're not experimenting. We're playing the best players," he said in Bloemfontein, ahead of the first ODI. "We're looking at the best 17 or 18 players knowing that we need to be able to shift and move around a bit."

The squad has three changes from the one that lost to New Zealand in January with Quinton de Kock and Dean Elgar out and Kyle Abbott in. While that hints at settling, what underlines it is the substantial difference from the Twenty20 squad that lost to Pakistan last week.

Crucially, South Africa have senior players back in the group with Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn bringing their 320 caps with them. That proved to be the biggest difference between the teams at Centurion, where Pakistan's seasoned bowling attack outclassed South Africa.

Getting the balance between old and new, especially in an era where cricket schedules are more cluttered than said scientist's work bench, is tricky. But with no Tests to think about before October, South Africa have an opportunity to do it properly.

Their selections will be questioned as selections always are but at least they have settled on something. Some will argue they should have included Richard Levi, Stephen Cook or Henry Davids, the top-three leading run-scorers in this season's one-day competition, but an opening partnership of Smith and Amla is more formidable.

Likewise, Andrew Birch, Roelof van der Merwe and Hardus Viljoen - the domestic tournament's leading wicket-takers - have had to miss out to an attack that will include Steyn, Morne Morkel, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Ryan McLaren, Robin Peterson and Aaron Phangiso. Morkel remains an injury concern having not recovered fully from the left hamstring strain that kept him out of the third Test. Kirsten envisages that he will play "at some point" but, in keeping with the way he has been managed in previous one-day games, he may be rotated.

Where question marks remain is around the middle-order but a quick scan of the statistics hint that the selectors could not have done that much better. Vaughn van Jaarsveld scored 28 more runs than Farhaan Behardien in the Momentum Cup but no-one put up their hand up high enough.

"It's nice to have a focus on ODI cricket so we can upgrade our skills and make sure we spend as much time as we can knowing what we need to do to close games out in tight moments"
Gary Kirsten

What the likes of Berhardien, David Miller and Colin Ingram need to do is harden up - particularly mentally - before players such as Quinton de Kock, Temba Bavuma and Yaseen Vallie and Cody Chetty start challenging for their places. That could be as early as next season. For now, the incumbents have to do the job and Kirsten has accepted that, knowing they failed in that regard two months ago.

Against New Zealand, South Africa's middle order was its usual wobbly marshmallow, incapable of toasting no matter how much it was held over the fire. It melted in the face of pressure, where aspects such as the death bowling also struggled. "All our preparation and our debriefing has been on the New Zealand series," Kirsten said, confining the retrospection to the shelf. "We've spoken about what went wrong there and what we could have done better. We try not cross pollinate too much. That keeps us all sane. We're spending a huge amount of focus over the next three days on making sure we get our game in order. Then we know we can put opposition teams under pressure.

"We've played a lot of Test cricket over the last while, so it's nice to have a focus on ODI cricket so we can upgrade our skills and make sure we spend as much time as we can knowing what we need to do in that version of the game to close games out in tight moments. We know we can create some momentum, and we know that with the players we've got we are able to win games in difficult situations."

That is exactly where South Africa have fallen short. They have not put the opposition under pressure often enough and they have not closed out squeaky-bum situations, never mind done so with conviction. They have floated somewhere between uncertain and unable, mostly mirroring their tactics.

Now Kirsten has said that should change. Stability will return to South Africa's one-day squad. AB de Villiers has been reinstalled as wicketkeeper and will have to find a way to manage that, his captaincy and his role in the batting line-up without feeling rushed, as he once claimed to. He will have plenty to lean on with Faf du Plessis having emerged as a competent leader himself.

The batting and bowling roles of individual players will not yo-yo from game to game and the focus has supposedly been defined and lies centrally in everyone's minds. South Africa only have five matches to show whether all those things have actually happened.

Although Kirsten remarked that they have 15-20 ODIs before their next Test (five against Pakistan; one against Holland; potentially five at the Champions Trophy if they go all the way; five against Sri Lanka; plus a few more against Pakistan in the UAE), it is not as simple as those numbers. There is an ICC tournament in between and a demanding public will want to see how far South Africa have reallyprogressed.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 9, 2013, 21:07 GMT

    No mention of Kallis?. Having been informed that he won't be considered for bi-lateral ODI series is he going to make the Champions Trophy squad as a batsman as he has - still - has one of the best all time ODI batting averages?? If he doesn't then SA must have some seriously good players in his position!!. If he is not going to make the final cut then is it time in this format to tap him on the shoulder and say just concentrate on tests?

  • zaf on March 9, 2013, 16:42 GMT

    SA should add Kallis. PAK should drop Younis/Misbah.

  • Amjad on March 9, 2013, 10:43 GMT

    Ok this 'we are not good at ODI's so what' thing needs to stop now. This is a quite nonsensical one and in a bad taste. We were not good at tests so we should call for tests to be abolished would be a childish thing to say the least. These three formats are there to stay and you need to deal with it. You win you celebrate and you loose you take it on the chin and move on. Tests are the prime format if you ask me but there are people and quite alot of them who care for the shorter versions in each and every country so its not up to XYZ to say lets get rid of this or that. Windies of 80's and Auss of the past decade proved it both the formats can be dominated over a long period of time so SA needs to pull their socks, they had a champion team in the past and no question they can't be good at ODI's this time around. Their bowling seems lacking a bit tweaking in lengths, need more yorkers etc.

  • sali on March 9, 2013, 1:48 GMT

    SA seniors give them strength but Pak ais better off without seniors like Shoib Malik, Misbah, YK, and Afridi. They need Ahmed Shezad, Nasir Jameshed, Imran Farhat, Mohd Hafeez, Umer Akmal, Asad Shafiq, Kamran Akmal, Umer Gul, Junaid Khan, Saeed Ajmal and Irfan in the team. Pack the team with few opening batters and lefties.

  • Soso on March 9, 2013, 0:14 GMT

    As long as they bowl yorkers at the death they will be fine. They need to stop this madness of bowling length deliveries at the death, thats suicide. Secondly they need to adapt, during the T20 in Pretoria its like as if we saved the yorkers and full deliveries for the last 5 overs. That was silly because Pakistan attacked from the word go, and over and over again South Africa bowled length deliveries, or slow cutters that were not even hitting the stumps. Until the last 5. We are just to methodical, we must learn to adapt to the situation.

    3rd) We should attack the stumps more, i've seen this annoying tendency of following the batsman when he shuffles across the stump, Tsotsobe especialy is guilty of this. He did it with Kane Williamson and in the T20's, stumps dont move or shuffle across attack them if he misses you clean bowl him or plumb LBW. I should be the bowling coach GEEZ!!

  • Altaf on March 8, 2013, 18:59 GMT

    Right decision by Kirsten. Stability in the team was something that SA required to be identified as champion in shorter format as well. Though they out performed in Tests in last 4-5 years, performance in ODI was drastic like not before. They lost to England 1-2 at home 2 years back, then to Aus 1-2, NZ 1-2 a month back, won to India 3-2(near margin), Pak 3-2 (hardly), Srilanka 3-2 (again hardly) and all that at home. Performance away is also similar. Recent decision will certainly revive their identity.

  • zaf on March 8, 2013, 17:21 GMT

    PAK Team will face SA strongest bowling in ODI series. PAK Team should add more batsmen in the team, the team should be as; 1)Nasir 2)Imran Farhat 3)Hafeez 4)Younis 5)K. Akmal 6)Mibah 7) Shoaib 8)Afridi 9)Junaid 10) Ifran 11)U. Akmal

    Saeed/Rehman should give rest in ODI series. And should utilized following 5 bowlers only; Hafeez, Afridi, Shoaib = Spin Bowlers Irfan, Junaid = Fast Bowlers

  • John on March 8, 2013, 12:56 GMT

    Heres a vote of no confidence....regardless of the selection of the team, it was clear to see the noticeable difference in the tactics and lengths bowled in the Centurion T20. SA persisted with short balls - easily hit, while PAK bowled full and straight and were hard to get away. SA think tank is wanting. If Kirsten and co. manage to win any ODI / T20 silverware with the Proteas in their lifetime, I will eat Table Mountain.

  • Tim on March 8, 2013, 12:45 GMT

    You're right, we're not taking the ODI's seriously, so what? The Proteas give just the right amount of attention to this format in terminal decline that it deserves. Kallis is not playing because his workload is managed. Steyn is on a break because he is no. 1 in the world. Look, we could be no. 1 in this format in a heart beat if we wanted to, but what does that gain us ? Think of the cost, we need to look after our Mace. It hurts to lose in any format but SA cricket has their focus in the right areas.

  • Nasser on March 8, 2013, 10:36 GMT

    As a Pakistan supporter, I ask why is Kallis not in the team? As one of the top batsmen and definitely the best all-rounder and that too over such a long period, he should simply walk into any team, including strong SA. SA have made Pakistan's task a bit easier by excluding him. Come on Pakistan!!!

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