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July 10, 2011
The South Africa A team's performance in the Zimbabwe tri-series has given high performance coach Vincent Barnes "a good idea of what needs to be done at the level below the national team". They won two of their five matches, beating Zimbabwe XI twice but losing to Australia A in three matches, including the final.
The tour took place in the middle of the South African winter and the group had to shake off their chills and get back into playing after only a week's training. "It took them a couple of games to get going," Barnes told ESPNcricinfo. "We will have tours like this on a more ongoing basis and we should have training camps for two weeks in future." The rustiness showed in parts as South Africa were involved in three close matches, but Barnes said they got "better and better all the time".
Ten of the squad of 14 had played international cricket before and Barnes, who worked as assistant coach of the South African team for eight years, is hoping to ease the passage for some of them to reach that level again. "I know what's expected at the international level, so I worked with them to give them an idea of what is required to get back there."
Jacques Rudolph was the stand-out batsman of the tournament and topped the overall run-chart. He scored over 100 runs more than his nearest competitor, Aaron Finch, and clocked three scores in the 90s. After a successful domestic season for the Titans franchise, Rudolph has been talked up as ripe for national recall and further cemented that theory with his showing in Zimbabwe.
"He played exceptionally well, did a great job leading and it's obvious that he wants to play for South Africa badly," Barnes said. Rudolph last played in international cricket five years ago, during a three-year stint on the big stage that ended because of a combination of poor form and mental fragility. Barnes believes he has overcome both drawbacks. "He's a lot more focussed from where he was before and is very aware of his game. There is also a massive calm about him."
The South Africa A bowling attack was able to defend totals twice, but bowled out their opposition only once. Vernon Philander was the highest wicket-taker for South Africa, with nine scalps at an average of 26.22. The Cape-Town-bred bowler has been impressive in first-class cricket over the last two seasons, and used the opportunity to show his promise in the limited-overs forms of the game as well. "He is an amazingly skillful bowler and knows how to work with what he has," Barnes said.
Craig Alexander, who can bowl speeds up to 150 kph, took eight wickets and was used as the "impact bowler". Death-bowling specialist Rusty Theron lived up to his reputation of squeezing runs at the end of an innings and was the only South African to take a four-wicket haul.
Theron played a key role both times the team defended totals, picking up late wickets. He set out to prove that he is a complete bowler, who can also do a job at the top of the innings, and he was given the new ball on one occasion. "Rusty has made it clear that he wants to be seen as a ten-over bowler. He worked on it and he will keep doing so," Barnes said.
Destructive opener, Loots Bosman, who scored just 12 runs in two matches, was one of the failures in the side. Roelof van der Merwe also did not live up to expectations and returned with only four wickets at a bloated average of 49.75, although he was economical. He had mitigating circumstances for his below-par performance though. "He was hit in the ribs and there was a danger of him coming home," Barnes said.
Allan Donald, the new national bowling coach who travelled with his predecessor, Barnes, to Zimbabwe to get a first-hand experience of working with South African bowlers, also made important contributions to the tour. "The guys really responded to him, he's a legend as far as they are concerned and they were very interested in his stories," Barnes said. "He got stuck in everywhere and helped with everything, even fielding."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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