South Africa look to Johannesburg for change of fortune
Nevermind the game parks, the wildlife and the wide open spaces, South Africa's favourite holiday destination is Cape Town. A mountain, pristine beaches and a city that combines the delightfulness of Europe with the authenticity of Africa, it's an ideal spot for a holiday or an adventure but it proved an unhappy place for South Africa's start to the international season.
It's an unusual venue for an incoming tour to start, with bustling and busy Johannesburg usually the first stop of an international season. "This used to be the starting point for the tour and the guys have started well here," Johan Botha said at the Wanderers, where South Africa were preparing for the second Twenty20 against Australia on Sunday. "Hopefully we can start our winning ways for the season here," Botha said.
After more than six months away from the international game, South Africa looked like an undercooked lot. While they achieved a par score at Newlands, their batting stuttered along the way, their bowling lacked incisiveness and even their fielding was a little off colour. The lack of energy culminated in an ultimately rusty performance, with one of the guiltiest parties being the man with the same name as the team's showing.
Rusty Theron, who made his name as a death-overs specialist, bowled three and a half overs and was hit for 42 runs. He was ineffective, wayward and expensive, a far cry from the bowler who was selected as part of the World Twenty20 squad in 2010. "He probably was a little off the beat in the Champions League and it showed on Thursday," Botha said. "He shouldn't just look at pace but he is probably five or six kilometres per hour down from where he has been in the past. Bowling yorkers at 133 kph to where he was at 140 kph is quite a difference. He will have to lift his game to stay in this team. That's just honest."
Despite his obvious potential, Theron has only featured in four ODIs and six Twenty20s during his year as an international cricketer. Lack of opportunity appears to have pushed him back and he is likely to make way for Warriors team-mate Wayne Parnell. "Wayne should definitely get a go. He has got that little bit of extra pace and flair," Botha said. "He is not scared to try things. In Twenty20 you need to be a little unpredictable sometimes." Parnell has battled injury in recent months but is still considered the best back-up, in terms of pace, in the case of one of Dale Steyn or Morne Morkel breaking down, and has been looking to cement a more permanent place in the team.
On a pitch that will offer more pace and bounce, South Africa may leave out one of their spinners, Botha or Robin Peterson. Botha was their best bowler in the first match, his place should be safe. An experienced Twenty20 campaigner, Botha also captained the team in the past and is regarded as one of their trump cards. He said he has based his game in the shortest format on unpredictability. "I am probably not your classical offspinner who lands it on the same spot all the time, I do try different things," he said. "You have to try and stay one step ahead and use your fielders cleverly."
It was those creative and innovative elements of his game that made Botha a respected leader. Although he no longer holds that role, he is still part of the think-tank and Hashim Amla was seen consulting with him on numerous occasions on Thursday night. Botha was pleased with the way the team fought, although he felt the ability to close out the game was lacking. "We did really well. There was a period towards the end of the innings where we almost got 50 in four overs and in the field, our general energy was really good," he said. "We did well to get it that close but obviously we would have liked to take more chances."
Another former captain, Graeme Smith, was guilty of letting one of those chances go begging when he dropped Shane Watson off Morkel's bowling. He also failed with the bat; after facing six awkward balls from Doug Bollinger he was bowled off the inside edge. JP Duminy said it was just a matter of Smith rediscovering his form. "Obviously he hasn't played much competitive cricket of late. A few of us have been involved in Champions League which helped. He has been only involved in club cricket," Duminy said. "It's about him just finding his feet again and with him not being captain he can focus more on batting and fielding."
Richard Levi, South Africa's only new cap in the squad, missed out on playing in front of his home crowd on Thursday and would slot in ideally in Smith's place. Although it is unlikely Smith will be dropped, Levi would not be wrong if he was hopeful of a chance. Botha said Levi could provide a little extra oomph at the top. "He is a very explosive player and we could maybe use that in the first six overs."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent