I more or less followed the recently concluded series involving South Africa and Sri Lanka on TV, the one dayers particularly. Since they are our first opponent in the upcoming ICC Champion's Trophy, I would like to share a few pointers about them that I observed. We should always keep in mind that they faced Sri Lanka at home, a very tough proposition, still the Proteas are not what they used to be even a year ago. Saying that, they still pose a very large challenge for us and a victory against them will be very very tough indeed.
While they are batting:
They have obvious problems in their line-up and very suspect against tight quality spin bowling.
Their batting as of now starts and ends with no. 1, 2, 3 - Smith, Gibbs and Kallis. Gibbs is totally out of sorts now though he can break out any moment. He is that type of player. I could see that he was clearly struggling against the Lankan seamers, who kept a consistent line, and frustrated him until he went for rash shots to get himself out.
Smith and Kallis, specially kallis, will be tough opponents. Not much we can do except bowling tight, fielding defensive, only to put pressure on them psychologically. Smith tends to get some mad rush of blood from time to time. I hope we can catch him doing just that. Kallis, on the other hand is as cool as they come. He is the heart and soul of their batting. If we can keep the damage inflicted by him to a minimum, we can have a fairly decent chance of containing the rest of the batters to follow.
Their middle order is extremely brittle! Ever since Gary Kirsten and Jonty Rhodes retired they have never effectively replaced them. You have a combination of players like Jarrsveld, Rudolph, Duminy who are 'average' at best. They are not settled in their position. They keep rotating the no 4, 5,6 spot. They had no clue how to play good spin bowling. We need a steady dose of Rafique and Rana in tandem operating against them. Even Rajin and Ash should try their hands.
Rafique had good times against SA
Following after them are Boucher and Pollock. Though they are good hitters, you can cancel out that threat if we can manage to strike the middle order relatively early. Instead of accelerating, we must make them build the innings, something the Sri Lankans did admirably. If the said two comes into bat with a healthy run behind them, we will be in trouble. And, Klusener will follow to tack on another 20-30 runs in space of 15 balls or so. Their tailends are not worth mentioning, though Boje is capable of some fours and sixes.
Our team, I hope, will do their homework by watching the videos of the recent series. We must be sharp while fielding. Hold on to the catches. Their running between the wickets is not top notch. It will be tremendous if we can get one of the top three run out. Smith is a lethargic runner and his calls are not sharp. Confusions are plenty when he is between the wickets.
Overall, their batting right now won't scare any top-level teams in the world partly because their lack of depth in quality batsmen who can adjust to adverse situations, accelerate when needed, and rebuild when necessary. They are far better in seaming conditions, something that will work against us in England, as opposed to spinning conditions of the sub-continent. Still, we must make spinners the priority against them. That is their weakness. We need to give ourselves the best chance. Like us, The South Africans love collapsing!! Just take a look at the scorecards of the series. You will see wickets in bunches. I give us a better chance against them than the West Indies. The Caribbeans have far better one day players in their arsenal than the Proteas.
While we are batting:
Here I will only talk about the South African bowling threat. It starts and ends with POLLOCK!! He is a supreme one day bowler. He is the only bowler who consistently took wickets in his first spell against Sri Lanka. He has tremendous control of his line. Rarely he veers from his line of just outside the off stump. To make matters worse, he can swing it both ways.
One weakness though: he is not as effective against left handers. We don't have any left handers in our line up. So, its a mute point. He can very easily take two wickets in his very first few overs and effectively ruin it for us. That means, either we will lose Nafis or Ash or worse yet, both of them at the top of the innings. We must be extremely vigilant from this terror called Pollock and if that means 3 RR in the first ten, so be it. We must keep the wickets at any cost. We need Ash and Nafis to survive Pollock, because things are much rosier after him. Those two can easily handle their other bowlers.
Ntini, is fast, but horribly inaccurate. He can be belted all over the place. After, Pollock, I think Klusener will be their best bowler in English conditions. The guy is fiery, gives all he has and well disciplined. His bowling is much better than his batting these days. Kallis is ok and nothing to be afraid off. Their other seamers are , well, put it this way : pedestrian. And then, Boje. Decent bowler. They don't have Nel.
In the end, our batsmen must stay patient. Preserve the wickets initially, avoid going after Pollock and wait for the change. They will probably bowl Pollock six-seven overs wanting a breakthrough. Javed Omar should pace that period with his junior mates. We must work to build partnerships. In one dayers, partnership is what that matters.
Not much is expected of us against South Africa. I disagree. I think they are our best option right now, if we play our cards right. I would throw in at least 24 overs of spin against them.
Go on the attack against their middle order. Field to attack the stumps for run-outs. When we bat, guard against early wickets to Pollock and build partnerships. Stay in the wicket and runs will come..
The author is a distinguished member of banglacricket forum and goes by the nick "Beamer" - editors