India v South Africa, Champions Trophy, Group B, Cardiff June 6, 2013

South Africa wolves lack bite

Deprived of their full-strength bowling attack, South Africa looked an altogether woollier proposition

South Africa's Test side has a discipline, know-how and physicality that has worn down the best the world can offer. Opponents bounce off the South Africa Test side like rubber balls off an oak door. South Africa's one-day side does not possess the same authority. It is a side trying to disguise its deficiencies as well as it can.

AB de Villiers wants South Africa's one-day side to have the same resilience and sense of threat. That is only natural, it is the side he captains. He had promised to release a pack of wolves against India but, if it suffers many more bowling injuries, it could become the sort of wolf pack that even Mowgli learned he could stare down in The Jungle Book.

India's ODI side has moved on from Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir and Yuvraj and remains a side to be reckoned with. South Africa must envy their array of young talent and the way it has been integrated so seamlessly. They took on India without Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn, and then saw Morne Morkel fail to complete his allocation because of a strained quad. Those who replaced them lack the same presence.

Morkel will undergo a scan on Friday and even if the provisional assessment is that it is only a minor strain, it can still take up to seven days to clear, leaving the disturbing prospect that Steyn and Morkel might miss the next match against Pakistan in a day-night encounter at Edgbaston. Chris Morris, who had a good IPL for Chennai Super Kings, might be a preferred replacement on the grounds that South Africa have been reluctant to risk Vernon Philander's vulnerable physique in the one-day game.

Unable to call on such talent as India, South Africa were forced to gamble. Robin Peterson had never reached 50 in 68 previous ODIs, and only batted in the top six on seven previous occasions, but he was thrown in at No. 3.

It was logical enough. Pre-tournament talk had concentrated on exacting batting conditions in English conditions, with two new balls, but the reality was far more amenable to batsmen. Here was a promoted lower-order batsman playing the ODI innings of his life on a flat pitch under sunny skies. As India's spinners fought back by suffocating South Africa in the middle order, not much seemed to have changed.

If South Africa experimented with their batting line-up, with the ball they played according to pre-set notions. They chose to bowl, said de Villiers, because the stats told them to, even though the forecast indicated that the morning cloud would burn off almost as soon as the match started. They made liberal use of the short ball, said de Villiers, because it was the best way to go against subcontinent batsmen.

"Against a subcontinent team, I still prefer some of the batters to hit us off our lengths instead of hitting us down the ground when we are on the fullish side, especially in English conditions," de Villiers said.

"I don't mind the guys having that aggressive mindset. I am very proud of the way we fought back. We got five wickets in a very short time in the middle overs and I think that was probably the short ball paying off.

"There was 100percent of the pack of wolves out there today. Every time I connected with the team, their energy and intent and awareness was there. Losing Morne Morkel was a shock but the way the boys fought back to restrict them to a chase-able score was a great effort."

Kleinveldt is the wolf that looks as if it has dined out on too much elk and moose. He recently suggested that he had lost 10kgs but, if he had lost it, it looked easy enough to find

But two of the wolves were Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Rory Kleinveldt. Tsotsobe was the wolf who keeps losing his bearings and has to be guided back into the pack before he strays too much. Kleinveldt is the wolf that looks as if it has dined out on too much elk and moose. He recently suggested that he had lost 10kgs but, if he had lost it, it looked easy enough to find.

Kleinveldt is 30 and only made his ODI debut earlier this year. He was probably a little taken aback when the opportunity finally came. It must have seemed "a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world", as the Kinks once sung about Lola. When he did force an error against the short ball, it twice sailed just out of the reach of South Africa's fielders; Shikhar Dhawan was 27 when he cleared Morkel at fine leg and 69 when he pulled over the head of Peterson, well in from the rope at deep square.

At least Ryan McLaren, portrayed as Kallis lite, had a thoroughly decent game. He bowled with more intelligent than most, conceding 70 but dismissing three of India's top six in the process. He even bowled a yorker - such a rarity it almost amounted to insubordination.

He then made an unbeaten 71 at No. 8 to take South Africa within 26 runs, a more respectable outcome than seemed had likely when Morkel limped out at No. 11 with South Africa still 75 shy of their target. South Africa accepted that it was a calculated risk for Morkel to bat, but if they are to qualify, it might now come down to net run rate and the 48 runs added in the last 7.1 overs, seemingly with no damage done in the process, was a rewarding outcome.

Without two disastrous run outs - first Peterson, later David Miller, potentially destructive but run out without facing a ball - South Africa would have got closer than many expected. At 155 for 2 around midway, they were in the match; at 188 for 6, with Miller and Faf du Plessis standing at the same end, discussing who had been run out, they were out of the match.

"Miscommunication in the heat of battle," de Villiers called it. "The run outs cost us dearly today." He smiled, but it was the smile of the wannabe leader of a wolf pack. The rabbits in Bute Park would have been best advised to remain out of sight if South Africa's captain fancied creeping through a gap in the hedge for a late-night stroll

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • purush on June 9, 2013, 17:25 GMT

    " Kleinveldt is the wolf that looks as if it has dined out on too much elk and moose. He recently suggested that he had lost 10kgs but, if he had lost it, it looked easy enough to find."

    This was hilarious, i couldnt control my laughter..

  • Naresh on June 8, 2013, 8:02 GMT

    You win some and lose some. SA have a young team and obviously miss some of their stalwarts. A fact that has come come out is that they need to give the youngsters a chance. Injuries are part and parcel of the game. India had so many injuries in their last test tour to ENgland. Many are asking where Philander is, I think I last heard he was injured and is nearly ready to play. So lets give SA a chance....They did play well against India, but left things too late.

  • Dummy4 on June 8, 2013, 6:16 GMT

    That was a great win for India.Did anyone noticed the change in technique of Rohit sharma, it was a masterpiece from Fletcher.The forward push allowed rohit to play the pull shot so easlily.I know Rohit has been a good player of short bowling but he was quite special against SA.

  • Dummy4 on June 8, 2013, 5:59 GMT

    A great win for india, though all is not lost for SA. agreed, d south african bolwers were way off mark but credit should b given 2 indian openers esp rohit who was promoted up d order. d very first over morkel bowled, india could have been 2 down, but credit 2 rohit,who played d over so well. later he opened up with a gorgeous coverdrive & six at point 2 open d flood gates. Agreed d pitch turned out easy in later overs, but it was india winning d match rather than SA losing as it is made out 2 b.

  • Dummy4 on June 7, 2013, 12:56 GMT

    Somebody please explain what is wrong with Vernon Philander??? Why he is not playing in ODI's?

  • Dummy4 on June 7, 2013, 12:47 GMT

    come on ladies.. SA are a great team and they will do better in next games. All isn't lost for them they just encountered India team ticking..

  • Kartik on June 7, 2013, 11:04 GMT

    Great match - India played well overall and ABD batted like a beauty till the brain-freeze. McLaren looks like the real deal.

    @Peter4135: World Cup team - Current Team 1. Tendulkar - Dhavan 2. Shewag - Rohit / Murli 3. Ghambir - Kholi 4. Kholi - Karthik / Rohit 5. Yuvraj - Raina 6. Dhoni - Dhoni 7. Yusuf / Irfan / Raina - Jadeja 8. Khan - Yadav 9. Bhajji - Ashwin 10. Munaf - Bhuvneshwar 11. Nehra - Ishant

    Only two regular players from WC team (Kholi and Dhoni) and one floater in Raina. Except for Dhoni, Kholi and Raina are batting at a different order. However you have to give credit (especially to a sub-continent team) to the Indian management that they have dropped players that won the WC, esp since in our culture people get selected on reputation.

    The heart of this team is 28 or below (Dhoni is 31 and Rohit is 30), I would call that 'young'? What's your point? Be objective and not a hater, seriously.

  • Rachit on June 7, 2013, 10:56 GMT

    @peter4135: the same young talent that beat SA, won the 2 warm up games, whitewashed aus 4-0...yup, that very same young talent

  • des on June 7, 2013, 9:47 GMT

    The bowling was some of the worst I've seen from SA in an ODI. Tsotsobe and Kleinveldt were terrible and both looked unfit. Tsotsobe is also a liability with the bat and in the field, but at least in the past he has performed and offers left arm variation. Kleinveldt, on the other hand, is the worst ODI bowler ever to play for SA. How he got into the team ahead of the likes of Morris, Philander and all the other bowlers in SA is a mystery to me.

    With Steyn and Morkel both out it looks like he may play the rest of the tournament too so things will only get worse. At least it's a short tournament so the pain will soon be over.

  • mukesh on June 7, 2013, 9:40 GMT

    SA looks a very one dimensional side , they came with a plan in mind and was mindlessly following it even though it was clearly not working. bowling short to sub continental batsmen is not bad tactic but they were doing it with guys like tsotsobe and Kleinveldt who simply don't have the pace to trouble anyone.