Pakistan v South Africa 2013-14 October 28, 2013

SA call on Kirsten to rejuvenate ODI batting

Despite having talented batsmen in their ODI batting line-up, South Africa have failed to produce match-winning performances in recent times

South Africa's roping in of their former coach Gary Kirsten to mentor their batsmen between the second and third ODIs against Pakistan might indicate there are some doubts within the team. From the outside, it would seem South Africa are in a state of some stress. Their coach Russell Domingo has only been in charge for three months and has already lost four ODIs and one Test. His Twenty20 series victory in Sri Lanka has almost faded from memory and questions have abounded on whether he feels he needs help.

However, think back to when Kirsten chose not to renew his contract and Domingo was appointed his successor. "It would be foolish of me not to use Gary in some capacity," Domingo had said. This is not a cry for assistance. Domingo is making good on those words and using his predecessor for planning, rather than panicking.

Developing limited-overs batsmen is South Africa's most pressing task, and that is the reason they have recalled Kirsten. The ODI line-up has managed only one total over 250 in their last nine matches - 305 against India during a losing cause in the Champions Trophy in England. During their recent tour of Sri Lanka, South Africa were dismissed under 180 twice.

They struggled to get going with an unsettled opening combination that could not provide the middle order with anything to build on, and they had batsmen whose techniques were exposed against spin. At least one of those will change with the return of Graeme Smith at the top. Smith was recovering from ankle surgery during the Sri Lanka series, but has since returned to full fitness.

South Africa would have hoped for Smith and Hashim Amla to add stability as openers, but Amla may be absent for the first few matches because he is still awaiting the birth of his second child. The good news is that Colin Ingram, who is on standby in case Amla does not make, is the leading run-scorer in the domestic one-day cup. He has scored four fifties in four matches and, alongside Smith, may strengthen South Africa considerably.

South Africa also have some consistency in their line-up. In Sri Lanka, Domingo did away with the floating batting order and installed a more permanent one. He put JP Duminy at No.3, AB de Villiers at No.4 and Faf du Plessis at No.5. Farhaan Behardien and David Miller were interchangeable at Nos. 6 and 7 but with Behardien dropped, Miller has the chance to cement his position.

One of South Africa's few impressive batsmen over the last three months, Miller has shown he can switch between big hitting and playing a steadying role in the middle order. He scored an unbeaten 56 in the Champions Trophy semi-final, after South Africa crashed to 80 for 8, to take them to 175 with Rory Kleinveldt. In the third ODI in Sri Lanka - the only game that South Africa won - he made an aggressive and unbeaten 85.

Miller comes into this series on the back of two half-centuries for Dolphins in the one-day cup and an attitude of enhanced maturity. "I've been working on getting myself in and giving myself time. Once I'm in the boundaries will come," he said. "In Sri Lanka, we lost a lot of wickets in clusters. We're going to have to take more responsibility as a batting unit."

Wayne Parnell, who made 129 opening the batting for Warriors against Lions two weeks ago, will provide another all-round option, with Ryan McLaren and Robin Peterson also adding depth. Under Kirsten's guidance, the batsmen will have no excuse for letting their bowlers down, as they have done over the past few months.

South Africa's attack, however, will be without Dale Steyn for the first two matches, but they coped impressively in his absence in Sri Lanka. Lonwabo Tsotsobe overcame fitness concerns to bowl with control and understanding of the pace and length needed on slow subcontinent tracks. They also included Imran Tahir after his impressive showing in the T20s in Sri Lanka and will hope the confidence he gained from his successful Test comeback translates into the other formats.

The squad has the resources to put on a decent showing in what South Africa are calling the start of their build-up to the 2015 World Cup. Recent history, however, has shown that they've lacked something in the limited-overs format. It may have been chutzpah, creativity, or just plain concentration. With expectations high and everything to prove, they have no choice but to move up a gear in this series.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jayaprakash on October 30, 2013, 17:02 GMT

    South Africa's main problem is their batting line up. Too much tinkering around under the name of flexibility is ridiculous. AB should come in at No.3 no matter what the situation is. His target should be to play at least 4 defining innings every 10 matches and he is perfectly capable of doing that,provided, he comes at No. 3.

  • Altaf on October 30, 2013, 13:50 GMT

    They need to make senior player like Kallis play in ODIs instead of IPL and Champions League. Albie will make balance between new comers and experienced. Ingram hasnt displayed maturity with international cricket yet. This ODI team is still dependent on Amla who has carried in last 2-3 years single handedly.

  • Price on October 30, 2013, 12:40 GMT

    The formula for introducing batsmen to international cricket is all wrong. They first seem to be exposed to T20 and one day internationals which favour batsmen taking chances and having ropey techniques. Batsmen as of old need to demonstrate solid techniques including defence which they can fall back on when they start out internationally and then to take it from there. One wonders whether the limited overs formula isn't also influencing the development of batsmen at junior level and is the prime reason for South Africa not being able to replace its current set of senior batsmen because the younger guys are simply not coming through.

  • Price on October 30, 2013, 12:23 GMT

    SA selectors never learn. Ingram has already proved beyond reasonable doubt he is not an opener. His average is boosted by 2 centuries both at Bloemfontein and more often than not his top of the order failures put SA batting on the back foot. Batting stability begins with a sound opening partnership. They are now monkeying with batting order with Duminy in at no 3. Beginning to think that the present coach who has no international experience himself is out of his depth.

  • Andrew on October 30, 2013, 8:30 GMT

    South Africa as a test outfit are peerless ... BUT ... although having the two top batsmen in the world in ODI's have failed to deliver ... On paper the side is most probably the best in the world ... On any day they can beat any side ... BUT ... South Africa have a tendency to get themselves out needlessly ... Trying to run quick singles that aren't there and trying to hit the cover off the ball every ball ... The one ODI I remember against New Zealand we had 5 run-outs ...

  • Cliffontong on October 30, 2013, 6:07 GMT

    SA'a problem: Too many average players: McLaren, Robbie P, Faf, Ingram. Too unsettled: the batting order is all over the place, the bowling line up changes every game, no idea what we want. Too many inconsistent players: JP, Smith, Morris. Each on it's own can be over come but as a whole I feel them team looks like Swiss cheese. Thank goodness Berhardien is gone.

  • Dummy4 on October 30, 2013, 3:26 GMT

    dont worry SA, pakistan will make sure your batsman will regain their batting forms! and winning streak..

  • Jay on October 29, 2013, 23:10 GMT

    @Smiling: I agree with your sentiments. But, you have to understand that EVERY team goes through that. The Indian team plays the MOST cricket out of every team, well at least they have been the last 2-3 years. If anybody should complain, it should be them. Travel, hotels, lack of loved ones nearby, different conditions are all part n parcel of modern cricket. These guys get paid A LOT of money than what you and I make in our careers. So they better give it their all. They OWE their nations and their fans. Coming back to cricket, let's speak about simple facts. SA are good but they lack the killer instinct of other good ODI sides. This is one of the many reasons why they have had poor ICC tournaments so often. After Amla, De Villiers and Kallis, they have nobody to score runs. Steyn and Morkel are not major bowling factors like they are in tests. That leaves a bunch of average players. This is the problem. Pakistan will be a very tough ODI team in the UAE. It's time to step up for SA.

  • Jay on October 29, 2013, 22:58 GMT

    @Jaybass32: I agree that SA are the best non-Asian team when it comes to a balanced record in the subcontinent. However, they are still chokers when it comes to major ICC tournaments. They simply haven't convinced me or most SA fans that they have what it takes to win world cups, champions trophy, world T20 etc. Till they do that, they will continue to cop a lot of flak. It happens to all teams with a certain deficiency. As an Indian fan, I am used to seeing a lot of hate directed towards the BCCI and the Indian team simply cause of their super power status in world cricket PLUS the fact we have never won a test series in SA and AUS. Get used to it. Personally, I am happy for SA being no.1 in test cricket. They are a lot lovable compared to the England team.

  • Neil on October 29, 2013, 15:55 GMT

    @Arun Bose and Bozo McBozo:

    As long as we're talking about rankings, it's worth pointing out that if you go by the latest ICC rankings, the South African team looks HOPELESSLY reliant on Amla and de Villiers in ODIs; the next-best batsman (Kallis) is 240 points behind that pair.

    Collectively, the 5 next-best South Africans on the ODI rankings (Kallis, Duminy, Smith, du Plessis and Miller) have a combined 2837 ranking points.

    If you're looking for a reason for South Africa's inconsistency, it's that. Amla and de Villiers can't fire every time, and when they fail, no one else is there to step up.