South Africa v Pakistan, 5th ODI, Benoni March 24, 2013

Series win hides a work in progress

South Africa may have won the ODI series against Pakistan, but they still need to plug weaknesses in their line-up

If the deciding match in Benoni was a World Cup final, South Africa would have reason to be overjoyed. The result says they won comprehensively but it does not speak of the struggle involved.

Twice, they had to break what were developing into threatening stands from Pakistan and both times they did so fairly quickly, assisted by poor shots from the opposition. In the end, they restricted them to a gettable but potentially tricky total on a surface were inconsistent bounce was as much of a challenge as some of the bowling.

It was the kind of chase that could be have been made heavy weather of, and it looked as though it was headed that way before an individual, better yet, the captain and a few trusty steeds put the result beyond doubt. It was not competitive to the last delivery or even the few dozen before that, but it was challenging enough to test the skills of a team that will not play together again for two months and that reconvene with a major tournament in their sights.

Do not be surprised if this series win translates into nothing come England in June. But, do not be surprised if it does. The only thing you, and the South African team, can be certain of is that it has made a few strides in the right direction with their one-day side. Specifically, the middle order has hardened up, the bowlers are operating with more thought and the captain may have found his place after 18 months of topsy-turvy.

He agreed on all three fronts. "I've seen improvement right through the series. We started slowly in Bloemfontein, even though we won, I could tell that things were rusty. I can see that the bowling has formed some good partnerships and the batters have looked good through the series. We are happy with our progress," AB de Villiers said.

South Africa started the series without the two men who are considered crucial to their pack, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, but it did not affect them. Lonwabo Tsotsobe continues to employ skilful variations. He opens the bowling well and his later spells have got better. Rory Kleinveldt and Kyle Abbott are both more than adequate back-up. They can both extract bounce and get seam movement.

The change has come mostly from the option of an additional seamer in Ryan McLaren. From a bits and pieces cricketer up until the beginning of this year, McLaren has come into his own. His slower-ball bouncer is effective and his tactical acumen makes him valuable.

Pakistan were bowled out for under 220 twice in the series as a result of their combined efforts and South Africa can be satisfied with the depth they have. Their issue, and Misbah-ul-Haq was frank in mentioning it, is that the spinner has not performed up to expectation.

"They are developing into a good side, they are really playing good cricket. They are really fit, their fielding is good, they have a good bowling attack but if you look at the spin department, it might be a concern for them." In four of the five matches, Peterson played in the series he has gone for over five runs an over. The back-up spinner, Aaron Phangiso, was never used and the one man who could come into contention, Johan Botha, has relocated and he is no longer considered for selection.

This is not a new problem. Spinners have always been South Africa achilles' heel and while they appeared close to solving it in the recent past, they have not come up with a complete solution. It may not be something that affects them in the Champions Trophy, so they may get away with it.

What they will not get away from is having a susceptible middle order and that conundrum seems to have rectified itself. Colin Ingram, David Miller, Farhaan Behardien have all made cases to compete with Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy for places in the final XI.

Most obvious in the new stability of the middle order is that de Villiers is playing at a new level. He racked up 367 runs in the five matches which included three fifties and a hundred - his highest ever in a bilateral series. He has also resolved the ability to keep wicket, captain and take responsibility with the bat and even though it may get difficult to juggle all three in future, he has any idea of how.

"I am enjoying my batting at the moment. My game plan is straightforward: to have good intensity at the crease, to try and keep still, watch the ball and confront the situation. Every time it is a different one and I am enjoying that. I can really go out there and absorb some pressure and it seems to be going way. Today, I took the opportunity with both hands and hopefully, I can continue that form."

He will wish the same for the team, who showed more than just fight and determination but an ability to get out of situations that could have become sticky. "We've got to keep playing better and better. We beat a very good Pakistan team here and we always knew we had the talent to win a big tournament but we will have to prove that," he said. June will tell.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • mahjut on March 25, 2013, 21:34 GMT

    @shaun&blabber ... true, not Lopsy's best series but he could've been reminding the Pakistani who took him for 3 consecutive 4s that "we're winning this series anyway and next series we're back to the UAE - remember what i did there in the T20s and ODIs!?" He's ODI record remains good. PS. SurlyC - I have answered your question re ABs batting as keeper twice ... gonaa try slip this past at the bottom of this post: ABs batting while keeping was questioned not due the role of keeping (plenty of people manage to bat and keep and captain!) - what was questioned was how would keeping affect his much talked about chronic back pain (cos that would certainly affect his ability to bat). Seems faintly odd that that problem has disappeared ... but lucky for SA that it has.

  • Tim on March 25, 2013, 20:07 GMT

    This Proteas ODI team is nowhere near as good as those powerhouse sides we've had previously. But those teams of yore won us nothing anyway so what the hell let's go with these guys!

  • Price on March 25, 2013, 16:23 GMT

    @Husain Sattar. South Africa's top order particularly the openers have looked rocky of late. Amla fulfilled an opener's role in the last game by seeing off a lot of the threat of Irfan but is better taking on spin. Smith's one day form is crucial to winning. When he fails SA still struggle. Kallis would be an ideal opener. He has adapted his strike rate a lot. Cullinan's assessment is sour grapes. As for Kallis's bowling you grossly under rate him. He takes very useful wickets. Still the failure of the top order has been a blessing in disguise by exposing the inexperienced middle order in this series. I still have my doubts about Ingram but I think Berhadien is showing the BMT required and his running between the wickets is also very useful and I believe if Millar can finally believe in himself which I think he is starting to do he will be a great player. Kirsten as usual has done his disappearing trick. But what a manager he is .

  • Dummy4 on March 25, 2013, 16:09 GMT

    @thoughtful_blabber glad somebody feels the same way I do. This statement destroyed all credibility for me in this article "Lonwabo Tsotsobe continues to employ skilful variations. He opens the bowling well and his later spells have got better." This is the same Tsotsobe who was talking back to the Pakistani batsman after being dispatched for three fours in an over. Unless he was saying "Well done" or "My grandmother should be bowling instead of me" he ought to have kept quiet. Thank god I have missed the times when his latter spells were worse that in this series.

  • des on March 25, 2013, 15:52 GMT

    @ Husain Sattar : Having Kallis and Duminy as 5th and 6th bowlers allows them to share those overs and allows us to have a batsman at 7 with McLaren and Peterson lower. Makes us much better balanced, 7 is too high for McLaren.

  • Dummy4 on March 25, 2013, 14:14 GMT

    I really dont understand why everyone is so certain of smith or kallis. Either way smith shouldnt be there, and kallis is questionable. Smith has been out of form for a very very long time. in all formats. Gone is the aggressive brutal player he used to be. Amla bats elegantly while still being aggressive. Kallis has for a long time been supposedly the anchor of all the sides. His role has been questioned, at least by Daryll Cullinan after one T20 world cup loss as to what is his role? At the time, with Amla and Smith both batting at well above 80 strike rate in ODI, what use would it be to send in an anhor, who bats way slower than that? Kallis has improved, but in the modern game, so has everyone else, and relatively hes still a grinder compared to any player in the team. More importantly the next two ICC tournaments, are both in conditions suitable for fast bowling. People havent noticed, but Kallis hasnt bowled 10 overs in a match for years. So who will be the 5th bowler?

  • mahjut on March 25, 2013, 12:15 GMT

    I think de kock does need a very extended run in the side if CSA are going to select him (and clearly they are, with Smith an ever increased liability). Bringing de kock in for a crunch game and him failing would not have added anything to him as a player. It's hard to argue his spot in terms of domestic form (though I'd've continued arguing it on age grounds if they hadn't shown some commitment to him - now i just want them to give him a run), but considering the form showed by Phangiso in a more demanding T20 tourny (than SAs domestic one) I don't think any comparison should be made between the two. For my money, Botha and Peterson should be vying for the spinning spot but with one ship sunk, it's a one-ship race (unless of course they want to add a second spinner - then Phangiso and Tahir can be considered)

  • des on March 25, 2013, 11:32 GMT

    @Donovan Williams : I think the edge Peterson has over Phangiso is that he bats better, which is crucial with our long tail and him batting at 8.

    I'm a fan of Phangiso, but I hardly think there have been 'double standards' in his selection. De Kock has been playing even better than Phangiso at domestic level (top scorer T20 comp for example) but he doesn't have an SA contract and Phangiso does. De Kock has only had the odd game here and there, difficult as an opener, needs a spell of games like Behardien was given.

    As for your idea that Kleinveldt bowled and batter better than McLaren, think you need to look at the figures. Forgotten him going for 93 in 9 overs at the Wanderers?

  • Dummy4 on March 25, 2013, 11:03 GMT

    To say that Peterson has had a tough time bowling would be an understatement. But he did perform quite well in the tour of England, where the ICC championship will be hosted. But why did we not try out Phangiso? He was one of the best bowlers in the recent T20 Champions League. If De Kock did half as well as Phangiso, there would be a rush that he be included. The normal slectorial double standards are being applied. What has made McClaren seem like he is a shoo-in? In truth Pakistan choked, they panicked and their batting capitulated. McClaren has not proven anything, except we can see that Kleinveldt can bat as well as him, and is a better bowler. SA won this series but it has shown that although on the right path, they still have a long way to go.

  • mahjut on March 25, 2013, 10:09 GMT

    Peterson has his limitations but his WC figures: 15wkts, 15.86ave, 4.25econ, 22sr at least show a guy who performs when it mattered...and he bats a bit! Tahir did well too (like Afridi) so the subcontinent pitches probably contributed - still Murali and Afridi aside, these two saffers were the best spinners at the last WC [and their econs, sr and ave were very comparable - and favourable - to Murali], pushing aside the likes of Singh, Swann, Al Hasan, Hafeez...

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