South Africa v New Zealand, Twenty20s December 26, 2012

Opening combination an issue for both teams

The Twenty20 series was all about discovery for two sides in transition and there was plenty to learn. Here are some of the most telling lessons

Now we know: breaking with tradition is not the devil it is made out to be. The festive Twenty20s provided ample entertainment to start the South African summer in the place of a Test match, although not everyone will agree.

Many lament the culling of the Boxing Day Test - which will be back next year and if everyone who complained turns up that will hike the attendance figures to close to full - but there was some sense in Cricket South Africa's unpopular decision. The three T20s were all sold out - a feat rarely achieved at a Test match in the country - and the competition went from non-existent in Durban to its peak in East London to a healthy mix in Port Elizabeth.

New Zealand began as many touring teams do in South Africa. They were overawed, perhaps by the expectation of alien conditions, and crumbled embarrassingly. Their 86 all out in Durban saw calls for them to either go home or leave via Harare where they could try and compete more convincingly. It didn't need to be that harsh.

Last year, Sri Lanka lost their tour opener, a Test, by an innings and were dismantled for 43 in the first ODI they played. The year before, India also blew up in flames by an innings in the first Test. New Zealand were not really much different. They showed that when against the run of play, they rose up at Buffalo Park and remained in the game at St George's. Despite losing the decider, they did not simply give up.

The T20 series was thought to be the one format in which New Zealand could hope to challenge and they did, somewhat. Their one triumph may only be shelved as a fond memory because there will be much tougher things to come in South Africa. But it should not be. It should simply be filed separately.

While the Tests and ODIs will be about asserting authority, as far as the hosts are concerned, and putting up a fight, from the visitor's perspective, the T20s were all about discovery for two teams in transition and there was plenty to learn. Here are some of the most telling lessons:

There is value in experience

Henry Davids, aged 32, was the series' top-scorer with 143 runs from three matches, including two half-centuries. Quinton de Kock, who touched 20 four days before the series began, compiled 30 runs, 28 of them in a match where only the inept Richard Levi could not muster something worthwhile.

That's not to say de Kock should be written off. Overflowing with talent, the young wicket-keeper batsman's only flaw is inexperience. Exposing him too early is a danger though, especially as he has been allowed to jump the queue.

Davids is proof that spending seasons in the franchise system pays off. It helps craft temperament and build self-confidence and assurance. As a result, Davids was South Africa's find of the series and may even have pushed his way into the ODI side. De Kock has been praised so much already that it would seem his ego needs no further punting but he, like any player, would benefit from more time in the domestic system before being unleashed fully formed onto the international stage.

But here's a good youngster

Not quite youthful by age, 26-year-old Mitchell McClenaghan just has not played all that much. Before this series, McClenaghan had turned out only eight times in the shortest format. But New Zealand have decided he is such a keeper, they chose to hang on to him for the upcoming Test series as well, in place of the injured Tim Southee.

McClenaghan is quick and the speed gun regularly registers above the 140kph mark but he also varies his pace well. Rather than tearaway, he exhibits a degree of control. If he stays injury free - and it will be an if because he has already had extensive time out of the game with hip problems - he could be an exciting prospect for a New Zealand attack that has often lacked the bite to match their bark.

The field has two sides, Levi

Given his size, it would seem Levi never leaves half a cake uneaten but he is content to ignore an entire side of the cricket field - the off side. It serves Graeme Smith well enough but Levi is no Smith. Sans a defensive ability, working him out has been as simple as following instructions for making a jam sandwich.

Levi does not like the ball coming across him so left-armers are always in with a chance. He hung his bat out to McClenaghan in the first match and was caught at square leg off Ronnie Hira in the second. Levi's domestic form (where left-armers are far less common) saw him top the one-day cup rankings but he has failed to make the step-up again.

This is not his first foray. He played for South Africa since the tour of New Zealand and was dropped during the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka. The selectors recalled him after his good patch locally and they may do that again, but only if there is an improvement in technique, mindset and a few trips to the gym.

New Zealand have opening problems too

In head-to-head stakes, New Zealand won the battle of the first wicket. They totalled 91 runs in the three matches while South Africa managed only 15. New Zealand's most successful start came with 76 in their victorious chase in East London, of which Rob Nicol contributed 25, but that doesn't mean they don't have an issue in that department.

While Martin Guptill's place is undisputed, Nicol's comes up for discussion when team make-up is considered. Frequently, Brendon McCullum comes at No.3 at the fall of an early wicket and with his reputation as a dominator, especially in the shorter format, the question of why he does not simply open must be asked. It would open up a place for New Zealand to play another batsman in the middle-order, where they often found themselves short, and also remove what has become an obvious liability.

A future leader?

Faf du Plessis ended 2012 having leapt up the ladder two steps at a time. From not even being a part of South Africa's T20 squad, du Plessis was named stand-in captain for this series, having previously captained South Africa A, and showed promise. Most importantly, he led by example and finished as South Africa's second-highest run-scorer.

On occasion, he struggled with juggling his bowlers and his most obvious flaw came under pressure. With four to defend off the last ball, du Plessis brought the field in, allowing Guptill to go over the top and win New Zealand the match when Rory Kleinveldt missed the yorker. It was the kind of mistake a young captain makes but du Plessis seems intent to improve. He already has the enthusiasm and the following of his charges, now he just needs to polish the tactical acumen and he may be the frontrunner to relieve AB de Villiers of one of his burdens.

What to do without your captain?

Ross Taylor's absence was noticeable in the middle order, where New Zealand obviously lacked runs but the hole he left was bigger in other areas. Without Taylor to provide guidance, albeit apparently of the quiet form, McCullum was obviously under strain and only really found his batting form in the final fixture.

Taylor did seem to have some communication with his team-mates though. After his match-winning century, Guptill was in immediate contact with Taylor as they exchanged messages on Twitter. Taylor congratulated the opener on a great knock and hinted he had offered some advice when he told Guptill to keep texting him. Guptill responded saying he would. The posts have since been deleted.

It proves that hints of Taylor's influence still linger in the New Zealand change room and a certain segment, if not all, of his colleagues value and miss him. Everyone, including McCullum himself, wants to see Taylor back and he is expected to make his return in the not-too-distant future. It won't be in time to take on South Africa, though, something New Zealand may be left to rue.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • David on December 27, 2012, 20:02 GMT

    @ Farmer_Oak

    I don't compare, I question the assumption that De Kock "needs more years at franchise level." Tendulkar was simply one example; look at others. Boucher: 1st class debut 19, test debut 21. Kallis, 1st class debut 18, test debut 20. AB de Villiers, 1st class debut 18, test debut 20. Graeme Pollock: 1st class debut 16, test debut 19. De Kock: 1st class debut '09, now in his 3rd year of franchise cricket - very similar! Firdose wrote "Exposing him too early is a danger" but offers no reasoning. Look at Pollock, AB, Boucher & Kallis. What is too early, & where is the danger?

    The Queue. Kuhn played 5 T20i, Van Wyk 3 T20i & 13 ODI, Vilas 1 T20i, & Tsolekile 3 tests. Top averages: 1st class, De Kock, 63.63. List A, Van Wyk, 40.06. Twenty20, Vilas, 38.40. Nothing - experience or stats - clearly defines the order of "The Queue," & De Kock is in it!

    As for "Jumping The Queue?" Van Wyk's ODI debut was 2003 - 2 years BEFORE AB de Villiers. So who jumped who in the queue, my bru?

  • Kevin on December 27, 2012, 19:02 GMT

    Its a great shame there are so many players missing from the NZ side through injury or unavailability. That extra fire power in both the bowling and batting would have made a huge difference. I don't think Nicols is a credible opener, even Bracewell could probably do the job better if you wanted to invent an opener, he has reasonable technique and the ability to find the boundary. I don't know why McClenahan gets praised for bowling quick, but Bracewell who is just as capable seems to be obsessed with bowling medium pace. Surely he could maintain 140k for 4 overs with the occasional slower ball, hopefully also on target for a change! There's nothing clever about bowling slower balls to players of this class if they end up being short and wide all the time.

  • Ahnaf on December 27, 2012, 16:35 GMT

    It's funny how the writer is criticizing De Kock after one innings. He's a great talent and should be nurtured properly and I believe he should play for SA's limited over sides regularly. Mark Boucher also debuted at a young age and he was the Proteas' keeper for a long time. And I don't think Davids did anything exceptional. At 32, I don't even want him on the one day side. Lastly, Du plessis may have a future as captain. With AB captaining the ODI side and a future test leader, don't think Faf being the T20 captain would harm anyone.

  • Norman on December 27, 2012, 10:26 GMT

    It seems as if most of us are in agreement that De Kock is one for the future. As for Levi, yes it's frustrating to see someone who has the potential to become a force in international cricket being so one dimentional. As for the personal insults " Given his size, it would seem Levi never leaves half a cake un eaten..." a bit distasteful if you ask me. I know you were probably trying to be funny or witty but i'm afraid you came across as insulting and judgemental. Not professional at all miss moonda. That's my 2 cents worth. Merry Christmas all :).

  • des on December 27, 2012, 9:34 GMT

    So to fairly evaluate a keeper batsman in his debut series we'll compare his total runs to the top scoring opening batsman - when the keeper in question didn't bat in one game and was not out in the other? Yes, that seems fair and unbiased.

  • James on December 27, 2012, 9:07 GMT

    Firdose has something against Quinton de Kock, and there is an agenda to this article. Look at SA, everything is settled now, except for a WK position and a spinner. AB does need a backup. At this point when change is inevitable, wouldn't it be sensible to introduce a youngster who has already played 14 first class matches- at an average of 63 and also has played several T20s at an average of about 30. Get him settled and you don't have the wicketkeeping problem for a decade, and you can focus on the other aspects- an allrounder to replace Kallis at some point of time, and a spinner. Generalizing from three T20 matches to point out the difference in class between batsmen, is mind boggling to say the least.

  • Ross on December 27, 2012, 9:06 GMT

    @Farmer_Oak: That "queue" is for keepers. Even de Kock will admit he is not the finished product as a keeper, but he only kept because AB pulled out of the squad. None of Vilas, Kuhn or van Wyk are better batsmen than de Kock, though. He's made more impact at 20 than they have for 10 years.

    It was a very biased analysis of his batting. He had two not outs, one of which he didn't face a ball, and then one innings ended early hitting out. If you are going to criticize that single innings, then you have to say he scored twice as much as Faf in that match at almost 5x the strike rate. There was *nothing* wrong with de Kock's performance. For a 20-year old in T20 it was very good.

    I also disagree that his selection wasn't based on franchise performance. In last year's T20 competition, he was the 5th highest run-scorer with the highest strike rate and the most 6s.

  • Stanton on December 27, 2012, 8:53 GMT

    seems Firdose needs to take a chill pill. Think the SA team, and I mean all the players (bar Levi) had an excellent series. Yes, De Dock is inexperiened,but that comes with time. vHi skeepign was clean and effective, and he didn't spill one chance, unlike butterfingers Peterson, two in one game no less!! Levi really needs to learn to read a game, and to first get to know a pitch, he is good, but I think he needs more exposure to differnt bowling (left arm bowlers, etc). Faf did an outstanding job, though also feel he kinda allowed NZ to win the second game as if her had told Rory where to bowl and set his fielders accordingly, I think SA would have won that game, still, all part of the learning curve. And @Greatest Game, Tendulkar is an anomoly, once in a generation kinda player, but even u must admit he is NOwhere near his best and should really consider hanging up the gloves, where as Davids is getting better with age. So seriously, take ur argument elsewhere.

  • Rashad on December 27, 2012, 7:34 GMT

    Everyone posting comments on here should just be patient with De Kock. He is young and certainly needs a few more years at franchise level. Of course no one, certainly not the author of this article, is suggesting that we should wait until he is 32. Davids was used merely as an example. On the other hand comparing De Kock to the master that is Tendulkar is unhelpful and, in my humble opinion, absurd - there is nothing that I've seen from De Kock to suggest that he is or will be that class of player. And yes De Kock did jump the queue. I would have thought that the "queue" for T20 is obvious - Villas, Kuhn and even perhaps Van Wyk was ahead of De Kock. I doubt he will be selected against better opposition.

  • David on December 27, 2012, 1:13 GMT

    1. There is no queue. This is Cricket, not a movie theatre or public bathroom, although some of what we read has it's place in either. 2. Tendulkar debuted at 16. Davids debuted at 32. Would 16 years of franchise experience have made Tendulkar a better player? The argument makes no sense. The writer uses a false rationale. 3. Boucher debuted at 21. He seemed to do rather well. 4. Levi is (almost) 25, & has franchise experience. Cape Cobras, Mumbai Indians, Somerset, Somerset 2nd XI, South Africa A, South Africa Academy, South Africa Under-19s, South Africa XI, Western Province: impressive franchises, & lots of experience. However, besides one big innings, he crashes horribly on the big stage (incl. IPL). So much for "franchise experience." Worked for Davids, not for Levi. Tendulkar did not need it. No knowing, without trying, if De Kock needs it. 5. Who was in the imaginary "queue?" Names please - we want to assess their franchise (& other) experience, their stats, etc.

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