Pakistan v South Africa, 5th ODI, Dubai November 7, 2010

South Africa must perform under pressure

Graeme Smith's side could, and probably should, be 4-0 up against Pakistan but their bowlers have twice failed under pressure. The deciding clash is a chance to put that right

When South Africa take on Pakistan in the fifth one-day international in Dubai it will be the first time since 2007 that they are involved in a series decider. Coincidentally, it was also in a series locked at 2-2 against Pakistan that the team last experienced a grand finale, three years ago. If South Africa are looking for good omens, they came out on top that day.

It's an important event for a side that has never been to the final of the World Cup but who has reached the semi-final stage three times. That fact has contributed heavily to South Africa being labelled "chokers", and painted as a team that collapses when the going gets too tough. Now they have an opportunity to perform in a difficult situation, something that the team management sees as a beneficial exercise.

"The pressure is huge," assistant coach Vincent Barnes told ESPNCricinfo, "and it's good that it's like that. It will give our guys, especially the younger ones, some valuable experience as to what tournaments like the World Cup are all about."

The South Africa one-day squad is a different beast to the one it was in 2007. The veteran wicketkeeper Mark Boucher has been replaced behind the stumps by AB de Villiers, Herschelle Gibbs' opening spot has been taken by Hashim Amla and the new-ball pairing of Makhaya Ntini and Shaun Pollock is now the duo of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.

Since May this year three new players have been blooded. Batsmen David Miller and Colin Ingram, along with paceman Rusty Theron, have all impressed in the early stages of their careers with Ingram recording a century on debut and Theron taking a five-wicket haul in his second game against Zimbabwe. However, it is this transitional phase that has been tricky to negotiate, more from a bowling perspective than a batting one.

Names such as Andre Nel have faded from memory and the likes of Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Wayne Parnell have been tasked with taking the team forward. Although the bowlers coming through the system are plentiful, it is the area that's been the culprit and landed South Africa in the situation they are in now; tied at 2-2 when they could easily have been 4-0 up. They failed to defend totals of 286 and 274 in the second and fourth ODIs of the current series against Pakistan, losing both matches with a ball to go after their death bowling failed to cope with the pressure.

In those four matches, South Africa have only used the same opening bowling combination in two game when Tsotsobe and Charl Langeveldt played together. In the third match, Langeveldt was dropped, after being taken apart by Abdul Razzaq, and Morkel opened with Tsotsobe. Tsotsobe then had to sit out of the fourth encounter because of back spasms and Parnell opened with Morkel. Steyn, who was out injured until Friday's match, returned and bowled first change but conceded 79 runs.

These musical chairs have been necessary for two reasons: assisting players who are returning from injury and ensuring players get enough game time ahead of the test series which starts next Friday. "We have had some injuries and the injured players have had to have a run, so at times we used different combinations in the series," said Barnes. "Dale and Wayne had to be given a run because they are also part of our Test squad and need to play."

It has meant that South Africa have not found a set game plan for their bowling and, with only six ODIs left before next year's World Cup, are still very much in an experimental phase. Barnes would not be drawn on which combination would play in the decider although it seems that Steyn is a certainty because he needs match time. He also praised the work of Tsotsobe, suggesting he may return if fully fit, and the effort of Theron who bowled the crucial over the third game to secure a two-run victory.

"Dale has a history of being a slow starter, but I was very impressed with his pace and intensity," said Barnes. "He needs a couple of games and he will be back firing on all cylinders. The form of Lopsy has been fantastic and we hope it continues and Rusty has shown he can convert domestic form internationally."

One of the surprises has been Theron only playing in one match, especially with South Africa's problems of closing out an innings. Already in his short career, Theron has displayed the death-bowling skills which made him so successful in the domestic MTN40 and Pro20 last season. His early efforts suggest that South Africa leave him out at their peril as they aim to overcome pressure and shed that dreaded chokers tag.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Shulz Van on November 8, 2010, 18:51 GMT

    SA proved that they dont choke in a cruch match today...And Pakistan i wud say "Choked" after the start they had....SA is the better side no matter how much ppl argue...its the fact...rankings also says that, so is the result of the series. Pak needs to improve more for the WC. One of the Pak fan sed that SA wud not made 270+ if Botha did not hit those runs in the death.....ARE U SERIOUS?....WUT U SMOKING? Its Botha's job....he is not on a vacation in am not saying SA wudv won in the 2nd game if Razzak was out!!! Cos I know its Cricket n Razzak is a Pakistan player who plays to win....I dont completely disagree with the author....but not 5-0 i think it shuda been 4-1 to SA baring the 2nd game.

  • Umair on November 8, 2010, 18:48 GMT

    Mr Moonda I was quiet taken aback by your analysis of 4-0. I hope you were not serious. Even if you were joking, that was the stupidest comment I have ever seen, didn't make any sense at all. Pardon me for this but how exactly did you end up being an analyst or commentator or whatever. Obviously, your academic achievements can't seem to ensure the quality in your article. Re schooling, maybe. Just a suggestion mate. Anyway, well done to SA and I am also glad to see PAK performing so well. Thanks for a thrilling series.

    Someone called both teams chokers. Understandable in SA's case as they have a history. Pakistan? Were you born yesterday buddy .. :)

  • asif on November 8, 2010, 18:11 GMT

    and the result of fifth oneday is south africa win by 57 runs comprehensively ,, and pakistan still in urge of their first odi win from past two years,,, same old story....

  • Dummy4 on November 8, 2010, 14:26 GMT

    This article, is extremely biased. SA should probably be 4-0? Like seriously? We should have won the second odi. Our batsmen performed amazing down the order. Even if we lose today, i consider this series a serious improvement for a team thats been controversy hit for this long. So get your facts straight.

  • Dummy4 on November 8, 2010, 14:11 GMT

    now i will be happy to see wat 2nd prefereed team they are having yousuf akmal apart from them no one was expected plz dont say salman butt not in odi team for very very long because of ultra poor form because in that way south africans can say bring back gibbs in odi.

    this is all just excuses. they have noone in team to replace apart from one player which i think is the opened shahbaz or something like that but apart from that theirs your team which will play in world cup whereas in south africa i am sure gibbs will make a comeback.

  • supratim on November 8, 2010, 13:33 GMT

    i am an indian and have to agree 4-0...what a biased comment,pak could have won the last 2 infact!this has been their first ever series in 29 months that they have not lost a match and followed it with signs of improvement are there...I think 3-2 for sa is a fair result as of now but 4-0!!!!hell no!

  • Amol on November 8, 2010, 12:24 GMT

    Irfan_421: Isn't Johan Botha an SA player???!!!

  • mahjut on November 8, 2010, 11:52 GMT

    I'm guessing at the content (it's usually much of a muchness when refering to SA the chokers - i know that's not really an excuse not to read it but...really...) the idea of 4-0 is harsh for a number of reasons. Razzaq played exceptionally well - the 'great' Waugh used to say if we get beaten by something special - fine! it was special and he deserved the win. And have played pretty well in all the matches (i didn't see the first). The other games were close - it's harsh on SA to use chokers (i'm assuming an insinuation), SA were also playing a second team bowlng line-up and death bowling with two recovering bowlers was always going to be difficult and in fact the very last over by Parnel in the last match was bowled very well. I think SA will wrap up the series today but it's been a close one - about right for SA openning their season and bringing back injured players. and about right for PK who by all accounts are truly in a bind

  • Dummy4 on November 8, 2010, 9:41 GMT

    never read such a ridiculous article..yeah they played well in the first three but the truth is that in the last three games,they have lost two and almost lost the third.Today InshAllah Pakistan will win like in the semi final of T20,when people like u used say things like that:)

  • Ajay on November 8, 2010, 9:24 GMT

    what a series it has been 2 chokers playing each other........

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