The post Sachin Tendulkar era in Indian cricket ushers in from the 5th of December when the much touted series between India and South Africa finally gets underway. The original proposed series of 7 ODIs, one T20 and three Tests have been pruned down to three ODIs and two Test but the fans can be rest assured about the quality of cricket that would be on display.
The Indian team has never won a bilateral ODI series in South Africa. Even under MS Dhoni, South Africa remains an unconquered territory. India has been in terrific form, especially in the 50-over format and the tour of South Africa will actually test their real capabilities of being the numero uno side in the rankings.
But is the present South African team as strong as it’s made out to be?
If we go by their recent results and their present ranking in the ICC charts, they perhaps aren’t. Although, South Africa still rules the roost in the Test for, their ODI team has gaping holes that needs plugging if they want to stop this Indian side from bulldozing them in the upcoming ODI series.
Let’s look at the five areas where South Africa has struggled to find a fix for recently:
The prime area of concern for South Africa. On paper, they look solid but ground realities echo otherwise. Barring AB de Villiers, who never seems to lose form, the entire South African batting looks jittery. Even Hashim Amla hasn’t looked at his best. Amla has played his customary good knocks, but his frequency of big scores in the ODIs have gone down and the hundreds have been spaced far and between.
Graeme Smith hit a courageous double hundred against Pakistan in the Tests but in the ODIs, he has faltered badly. He looks vulnerable against the seamers and his old problems of his head falling over too quickly seem to have resurfaced. As a result, South Africa hasn’t had the starts that they needed and the middle order has been burdened with the job of resurrecting the innings, far too often.
If the top order has failed to deliver, the middle order too has looked wobbly. Jacques Kallis looks completely out of touch and JP Duminy is still trying to find his feet at the international level. Although, he has played the occasional decent knock, Duminy has failed to live up to the promise and hype of being “the next big thing” in South African cricket.
As a result of the failures of Duminy and Kallis, AB de Villiers has been overburdened with the duty of taking the team home. Surprisingly, AB has lived up to it and has taken the team through most times but even his exploits haven’t been enough to cover the brittleness of the middle order.
Quinton de Kock, Henry Davids and David Miller – South Africa rotated all three of them during the series against Pakistan and all of them failed to contribute. While de Kock and Miller are the upcoming stars, the 33-year-old Davids is an experienced campaigner. Davids was brought in to provide some solidity to the middle order but his problems against the spin of Saeed Ajmal didn’t stand him in good stead.
Quinton de Kock played the odd good innings but gave in too easy during the crunch situations. He looks like a talent to be harnessed but has to be technically and temperamentally much stronger when he goes up against the big boys.
However out of the three, David Miller was the one who disappointed the most. After his eye-catching performances in the IPL for Kings XI Punjab, this left-hander was touted as the next superstar for the Proteas. It seemed that South Africa, finally found a finisher who could steer the team home but Miller failed big time against Pakistan. More than his failures, his discomfort against the quality seam bowling of Pakistan would give the management quite a headache.
Lack of quality all rounders
This is one department that the Proteas have never lacked in. Right from their comeback into international cricket in 1992, South Africa has always been blessed with quality all rounders who could turn a game with their abilities with both the bat and the ball. Brian McMillan, Craig Matthews, Lance Klusener, Albie Morkel and Shaun Pollock have all been match winners for them but the best of the lot was Jacques Kallis, who went on to become one of the best in the business.
However, age seems to be catching on with the 38-year-old and fitness issues are cropping up to hamper the best all-rounder in the world. He has been out with injuries and even after his return, has failed to recapture his old form. It was inevitable but the South Africans have failed miserably in grooming a replacement for him. It’s tough to replace a player of Kallis’ ability and class but the Ryan McLarens and the Wayne Parnells have failed to even make a mark at the international level.
Yes, both McLaren and Parnell have hit the a fifty and snapped a five-for here and there but overall they have failed to create an impact and cement their places in the South African side.
Problem of spinners
An age old problem for the South Africans – the lack of a quality spinner. Other than Pat Symcox in the nineties, the Proteas have struggled to produce a world class spinner who would threaten the best batsmen in the world. They have tried the weird Paul Adams, the predictable Paul Harris, the always on ICC’s radar Johan Botha and now they are banking their hopes on Imran Tahir.
Imran Tahir is good but still isn’t good enough. He has had success against the sides that fail to play spinners but against countries from the sub continent, he has drawn a major blank. Even the mercurial batting line up of Pakistan played him with utmost ease.
Aaron Phangiso, the left armer, was a good option but his lack of penetration on unresponsive pitches has pushed him down the pecking order. As a result, the Proteas have stuck to Robin Peterson, who mostly looks to contain rather than going for wickets.
The Dale Steyn dependency
Here’s another big problem that the Proteas need to address the India series. Although, their pace bowling reserves is very healthy, the job of picking up wickets still seem to lie with Dale Steyn. Of course, he is the best bowler in the world in every format of the game but little can he do if he is not backed up by some quality from the other end. He has tirelessly worked up steam and knocked over the best batsmen but in an ODI game, he only has 10 overs to bowl.
Vernon Philander is really good with the red ball but the white ball doesn’t seem to like him that much. Morne Morkel has been good in sustaining pressure but at times has sprayed it all over the shop. Even the ODI specialist, Lonwabo Tsotsobe hasn’t been able to get into the mix.
With the above problems in hand, South Africa doesn’t really seem to be the threat that they are projected to be and if India can settle in quickly and hit the Proteas at their weak points, it is sure to hurt. This is a huge chance for MS Dhoni and his side to proclaim their supremacy in the rainbow nation and if they play like the number one side that they are, the Proteas will struggle to compete with them.