South Africa v Pakistan, 2nd ODI, Centurion March 14, 2013

South Africa's search for consistency

South Africa's ODI win ratio hovered above 60% since readmission until very recently. For much of the last two decades, they reeled off victory after victory - except in major tournament knock-out situations - at will and collected trophies all over the world. At one stage in the early 2000s, they won six series in succession.

Throughout that time, it was always thought they would win ICC silverware and they have not delivered on that yet but as far as meeting other expectations were concerned, they did. South Africa could always be counted on to play like men who wanted to be there, to provide a stern contest and to fight to the finish.

These days, they are more of a 50-50 side. Since the shake-up after the 2011 World Cup, they've recorded eight losses and 11 wins from 20 matches. Consistency has proved elusive and it is the one thing they are looking for more than anything else.

Over the last year, they could not concentrate on that because of their Test-heavy 2012 and focus on achieving excellence in that format. With the World Cup still far enough away, it was acceptable to let the one-day squad drift. It was also, and few seem to remember this, inevitable because of the level of transition of South Africa's limited-overs teams.

Previous ODI units were loaded with experience and regulars who played across the formats. Now, the side is more specialised, in keeping with both modern trends and the Test-skewed aims of the side. Two-in-one bonus players like Jacques Kallis appear less frequently, if at all, and the premier fast-bowlers need to be rotated.

"You can even look at it a bit further back when guys like Mark Boucher were part of the system. We had some big experience in the side not too long ago," AB de Villiers said. Boucher played his last ODI for South Africa in 2010, before he was replaced behind the stumps by de Villiers. "These days we've got a bit of a younger vibe and that's nice to have but it's about the balance as well."

To avoid the scale tipping over on the side of too much youth, the core has become even more important and has its most central figure, Graeme Smith. Often criticised for his one-day performances, Smith's contributions in this format are easily forgotten as calls for other openers are made.

But the former captain is a constant and in a South African side that has gone through many changes, a much needed one. "It's a comfortable thing for me to have his experience around," de Villiers said. "I used him a little in Bloemfontein with setting certain fields but I don't use him all the time. He has failed and succeeded and been through the whole lot. He can see where I get it right or wrong."

Having run his course as leader of a team where the previous one is still around - Smith captained Shaun Pollock after he resigned - Smith also knows when to back off. "He uses a very clever way to get his message across to me after the game. He allows me to be myself on the field and talks to me afterwards," de Villiers said.

With Smith and Hashim Amla, South Africa have preserved some of their stability and they will look to weave in more of the same tactically as matches go on. "We were jumping around with things like the batting line-up and my position not too long ago but now we have clarity and that's important," de Villiers said.

Complicated as it is, de Villiers has now settled on captaining in one format (ODIs), opening the batting in another (Twenty20s) and wicket-keeping in all three. The floating batting line-up will only apply in limited amounts and only to him in ODIs as he may look to bat at No.3 on occasion because "I like to bat for as long as possible."

Colin Ingram, Faf du Plessis and Farhaan Behardien are "more settled," in the middle order and there is a consistent game plan. In many ways, it is similar to the one South Africa used during their years of success because it relies less on being unpredictable and more on repeating stock-standard basics until they bring rewards.

Those things include strike rotation when batting through the middle overs, especially against spinners, and bowling enough slower balls. They may not be massively innovative but de Villiers said South Africa will continue to employ those methods and they are putting greater emphasis on them at practice.

"Our consistency in the last year has been very poor and it is something we want to improve on. Consistency for the public is not the same as it for us. For us, it's in things like the way we train as well and now we are consistently good things there as well," he explained.

"There is no such thing as a perfect team and we are not trying to be that. We just want to improve every game." Assessing how they did that in the past and perhaps even going back to some of their old strategies seems to be one way of ensuring the development that will ultimately lead to greater consistency.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • SaulB on March 15, 2013, 9:17 GMT

    @global Fanie does live commentary and analysis for supersport (sports channel), he was a great, but I think having the great Alan Donald in our corner is sufficient... along with Steyn I doubt anyone could ask for a better coach/bowler combination.

  • SurlyCynic on March 14, 2013, 19:30 GMT

    So they used to be a '60% team'. And now, with 11 wins and 8 losses out of 20 they are effectively a 57.5% team.

    I agree their performances have declined and they are erratic, but these stats don't really prove much.

  • GlobalCricketLover on March 14, 2013, 17:34 GMT

    Where is Fanie DeVilliers nowadays? He had amazing variations and was the only bowler who could keep Sachin quiet even when he (sachin) was young in great form. Can't forget those dismissals where Sachin got fooled by the change in pace and lobbed catches to midwicket or silly midwicket. And this is coming from an Indian They should seek his tips if he is available!

  • SaulB on March 15, 2013, 9:17 GMT

    @global Fanie does live commentary and analysis for supersport (sports channel), he was a great, but I think having the great Alan Donald in our corner is sufficient... along with Steyn I doubt anyone could ask for a better coach/bowler combination.

  • SurlyCynic on March 14, 2013, 19:30 GMT

    So they used to be a '60% team'. And now, with 11 wins and 8 losses out of 20 they are effectively a 57.5% team.

    I agree their performances have declined and they are erratic, but these stats don't really prove much.

  • GlobalCricketLover on March 14, 2013, 17:34 GMT

    Where is Fanie DeVilliers nowadays? He had amazing variations and was the only bowler who could keep Sachin quiet even when he (sachin) was young in great form. Can't forget those dismissals where Sachin got fooled by the change in pace and lobbed catches to midwicket or silly midwicket. And this is coming from an Indian They should seek his tips if he is available!

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  • GlobalCricketLover on March 14, 2013, 17:34 GMT

    Where is Fanie DeVilliers nowadays? He had amazing variations and was the only bowler who could keep Sachin quiet even when he (sachin) was young in great form. Can't forget those dismissals where Sachin got fooled by the change in pace and lobbed catches to midwicket or silly midwicket. And this is coming from an Indian They should seek his tips if he is available!

  • SurlyCynic on March 14, 2013, 19:30 GMT

    So they used to be a '60% team'. And now, with 11 wins and 8 losses out of 20 they are effectively a 57.5% team.

    I agree their performances have declined and they are erratic, but these stats don't really prove much.

  • SaulB on March 15, 2013, 9:17 GMT

    @global Fanie does live commentary and analysis for supersport (sports channel), he was a great, but I think having the great Alan Donald in our corner is sufficient... along with Steyn I doubt anyone could ask for a better coach/bowler combination.