Sri Lanka v South Africa, 5th ODI, Colombo July 31, 2013

Much work needed on several fronts for South Africa

The opening combination, the spinner's spot, the pace bowing in less helpful conditions, the wicketkeeping, the captaincy … there was little that went right for South Africa in Sri Lanka

If South Africa are looking for comfort, they should avoid statistics. The numbers will only serve to depress after a series in Sri Lanka that was supposed to mark the start of a new dawn for the one-day team but now represents one of their worst points.

Some of the lowlights include losing two matches by margins of more than 100 runs for the first time ever and the supposed leader of the attack Morne Morkel, sending down the most wides by a South Africa bowler in a bilateral series ever.

The last time South Africa lost four matches in a one-day series was in 2008 in England, when they were basking in their Test success and forgot all else. Just after that, against Australia in the 2008-09 season, was the last time South Africa went through a series of five matches or more without a centurion.

So yes, Russell Domingo has a much bigger job on hand than was initially thought. Individually and collectively, his team is a far cry from the South Africa who would reel off series wins - six in a row in 2000, five in succession in 2007 - at will. We already knew that before Domingo took over but it was laid more brazenly bare than we expected.

Few thought the mix between the neglect of the limited-overs' set-ups during Gary Kirsten's two-year tenure, the current transition phase which was been exacerbated by injuries to key personnel like Graeme Smith and Dale Steyn and the destination - a place where South Africa have only won two ODIs against the hosts in history - would prove so toxic. That it did should surely shake Domingo and his staff into action and prompt brave decisions as South Africa looks to the 2015 World Cup.

The first thing they have to decide on is an opening pair and they wasted the opportunity to do that in this series. South Africa fielded four different top twos and none of them had any success. The initial one of Colin Ingram and Alviro Petersen was enforced because of an injury to Hashim Amla and was the worst of the lot.

Ingram is not an international opener. He showed that in the Champions Trophy and he showed it again in Sri Lanka. He has been shamefully treated with the constant moving up and down the order even though it is clear he is most comfortable at No. 3, but he will not get that role because it has been given to JP Duminy. That may mean there is no place for Ingram anymore and that would be a mistake.

Likewise, relegating Quinton de Kock would be an error. But sending him back to the domestic game until he grows up will not be. De Kock's inexperience means he is not ready for the highest level no matter how much AB de Villiers wants to hand over the wicketkeeping gloves. De Kock is loose outside the offstump and needs to learn basic elements of patience before he can be reconsidered.

Petersen's temperament and experience made him a sensible choice even though he did not have the domestic record to justify his selection. That he didn't set the world alight in this series may mean South Africa have to look elsewhere. If they don't rely on Graeme Smith's return from injury, they could do worse than Heino Kuhn. Not only is the Titans' man an aggressive and proven opening batsmen but he keeps wicket too.

While inconsistency was the theme of the opening partnership, Domingo did well to put in place a middle order and run with it. That they all failed is a worry. Duminy showed he can bat at No. 3 although he only had one significant score and that is simply too little to justify keeping him there ahead of Ingram.

In de Villiers and Faf du Plessis lies a major concern. De Villiers has proven he cannot bat, keep wicket and captain at the same and he has to be relieved of at least one of those roles. To use the excuse that he is a new captain is simply dishonest. He has been in the job for more than two years and no one calls a 25-month-old a newborn. His tactical acumen seems lacking, he struggles with bowling changes and fielding positions and he constantly flirts with the clock in terms of over-rate. The lack of another candidate may see him keep the job, though, in which case he would need to permanently give up the gloves.

Du Plessis, who captains the T20 side, is in no form to take over the ODI team as well. He has not scored a half-century in nine innings. His last one was 62 against the Netherlands, which was his only score of fifty-plus in 15 innings. In this series, he was out driving four times. He played down the wrong line too often and his footwork needs improvement.

With few contributions of note from the middle-order, it's hardly surprising South Africa did not have a centurion. David Miller came close with 85 and showed his finishing ability but that is not all he is. He should bat higher in the order, certainly ahead of Farhaan Behardien, who did not look like he should be playing at all.

Behardien struggles were obvious enough to evoke sympathy. He battled to pick Ajantha Mendis - who troubled most of the line-up and was the highest wicket-taker in the series - in two of the games he played and could not get off the mark until it was too late in the third. He has delivered at domestic level and perhaps needs to go back there to remember how it's done.

And that is just the batting. South Africa's bowlers were slightly better when compared with the miserable descriptions above but it didn't take much to achieve that. Ill-discipline was their biggest sin and they gave away 65 runs in wides across the five matches. Morkel could be relied upon to bowl a handful every match as he struggled with line, and even the spinners were guilty of it.

In the spin department, South Africa's strategies were completely flawed. They began by picking three slower bowlers - Robin Peterson, Aaron Phangiso and Duminy - because they thought pitches would turn. Having paint does not make one a painter and to throw two left-arm spinners to a line-up heavy with left-hand batsmen and some of the best players of spin in the game was puzzling.

Peterson, much improved as he is, was ineffective. Phangiso and Duminy were slightly better, especially in terms of control, but South Africa's lacked a match-winning spinner. Imran Tahir is one option. He has had success in the shorter formats and can, at least, actually turn the ball.

As for pace, many believe Dale Steyn's return will paper over all the issues. It will not. Boeta Dippenaar pointed out on these pages when the series started that South Africa's quicks struggle when the surfaces offer them very little and he was proved right. Morkel can extract bounce, Lonwabo Tsotsobe is wily and Ryan McLaren is the only one who can land a yorker, but they don't do any of that consistently. A swing bowler will help but if the rest can tighten up, they become more penetrative.

South Africa only bowled Sri Lanka out once and they were bowled out three times. That is evidence enough of the gulf between the attacks on these strips. The public will not let South Africa get away with conditions as an excuse, because they have used it too often. It was their one of their reasons for not winning the Champions Trophy and it definitely is the reason they have lost so heavily in Sri Lanka. The 2015 World Cup will not be played on the subcontinent so some may think it does not matter but it does.

Inability to adapt turns teams with potential into sitting ducks and that's what South Africa were for most of this series. Even their usually sharp fielding was poor. Domingo may despair when he considers the amount of work that needs to be done but at least he can take comfort in knowing there is much time, many matches and enough talent in the domestic ranks to make sure it happens.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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