Cape Town – Fortunately in some ways, considering the dubiously condensed nature of the itinerary, there is little danger of it turning into a “long” summer for South Africa against the touring Australians.
After all, they’ll have left our shores even while people in some parts of the country are still tempted to brand it late spring.
The main business of the two Tests still lies ahead, but three limited-overs matches into the visit and there can be little doubting that the Aussies look much the hungrier and more twinkle-toed outfit.
The Proteas were fortunate to share the two-game Twenty20 series, courtesy primarily of a freak few overs of meaty tonking from Wayne Parnell and Rusty Theron at the Wanderers on Sunday after all had seemed lost … yet at the eternally weather-jinxed Centurion on Wednesday the visitors very much restored their superiority in winning the first ODI by almost 100 runs.
That is a sobering margin in a severely Duckworth/Lewis-condensed affair.
It is still too early to start rummaging for the morphine in the medicine cabinet; let’s not forget that new coach Gary Kirsten has only been with his charges for just over a week, thanks mainly to the curse of the Champions League in India which prevented the national squad from assembling with any proper time at their disposal to “click” anew as a social and cricketing group after a long off-season.
Still, the schedule for this tour has been out for a good while and Proteas enthusiasts are perhaps entitled to inquire acidly why the undercooked look of their heroes as a collective has really come as no great surprise.
You get a bit of a niggly feeling, too, that amidst the hype and rightful jubilation which accompanied Kirsten’s appointment, a bit of a malaise simultaneously took root among certain established players: “The Indian miracle-maker is here, so all will be well.”
Kirsten alone cannot guarantee success: it needs buy-in and hard, sweaty yards from the men who actually take to the park.
Am I alone in still having a wee suspicion that the Proteas limited-overs squad of early 2011/12 contains one or two too many “chunkies” or naturally ungainly customers who stomp rather than glide about the outfield?
In fairness, acting captain Hashim Amla made the pertinent point after the near-rout at SuperSport Park that the Aussies have had the benefit of a winter tour to Sri Lanka which “hardened” them to a far greater extent than his rusty own side.
Nevertheless, some worrying questions around the South African squad are already creeping onto the table.
Is Amla, who has publicly before made no secret of his preference for “number two” status, really suited to leading the one-day side until AB de Villiers’s return? More pertinently, are there already some fledgling signs that the burden is affecting his precious batting qualities?
Is JP Duminy going to become teenage tearaway Pat Cummins’ series bunny? He has fallen to him three times in three innings, albeit that in the Cape Town T20 he provided a weighty and elegant knock of 67 – more than double the individual tally managed by any other South African in the top five over the course of the trio of games, in fact.
Just how suited is David Miller to a “rebuild” job when the top order is so clearly misfiring? (I don’t doubt his potential as a power-hitting finisher if, touch wood, the specialists above him find some mojo.)
Are Graeme Smith’s problems against left-arm pace becoming too terminal to warrant carrying him in the limited-overs side?
The tragedy on Wednesday was that, after consultation with non-striker Amla, a review was not called for: it would have got the left-hander off the hook against Doug Bollinger’s leg-before-wicket strike although he had been rather beaten neck and crop anyway at first glance, it must be said.
Shouldn’t intended Test series lethal weapon Dale Steyn, who thrives on rhythm yet palpably lacks it at this stage because of a lopsided diet of instant cricket, be pulled out of the third ODI in Durban on October 28 and instead get plenty of first-class overs beneath his belt when the Cobras play the Titans from October 27 in the SuperSport Series at Benoni?
So many questions; already so little time to seize back the initiative from a seemingly fast re-awakening Australia.
Still, it would be unreasonable to lose all faith in that happening.
The Proteas can only get better … can’t they?
The Proteas are on dangerous ground against their old foes: they have conceded a lot of early mental ground to them and there are only two more ODIs left to try to turn the mini-series around and, at least in some cases, try to buy some semblance of form for the Tests.