AB under pressure
Proteas captain AB de Villiers is under major pressure right now to prove that he's the right man to lead the side.
Our boys lost the crucial fourth One-Day International on Sunday in a display that once again was poor to say the least.
Thank goodness Hashim Amla was back. His 71-ball 77 was almost effortless as he flayed the Sri Lankan bowlers to all parts of the Palakelle Stadium. He timed the ball superbly, he read the spinners well and while he and JP Duminy were batting together we picked the home team off with consummate ease.
Then Amla went out to one that beat him in the air and from that point onwards the wheels came off a deceptively shaky cart. We can kid ourselves and reflect on JP Duminy's stunning 97 but the crumbly underbelly in the Proteas's batting against sustained pressure from spinners is something which they have still not shaken - not in all the years of post-isolation cricket. A few months of the 20-year period have been better than others but by and large it's remained a monkey on our back.
Between Tilekeratne DIlshan , Rangana Herath and Ajanta Mendis we lost seven of our 10 wickets, with Mendis claiming 4 for 51 in less than 10 overs. Thanks to the Proteas, Mendis's return to the Sri Lankan starting 11 is secured. Should we not have been the force to put the man who's been out of favour for some time under pressure? We simply were not capable of doing it.
The batting coaches have not been able to coach our boys out of the "middle over nerves" needed to keep building momentum across 50 overs, especially when it comes to picking off spinners bowling in tandem. When Amla and Duminy were rolling along, the Sri Lankans, to their credit, changed their lines, became more defensive and began to stifle the two free-flowing batsmen.
Once Amla departed they bowled at the stumps more and reaped the rewards.
I am sure many, many net sessions are dedicated to attacking specific bowlers in specific areas but it's not evident in the application. One does not mean to rubbish the Proteas because they are a fantastic combination - on paper - but once again in application the team has been found short. Test team number 1 in the world.
In ODIs a lowly fifth place. Need we say more?
In the bowling stakes, Allan Donald needs to do a better job as well. By the time Morne Morkel bowled his seventh wide of the match the Proteas had given the opposition 50 wides across 4 matches. Has AD gone on record as to what the problem is with all the extras and more specifically why we've been bowling so many wides? Surely bowling outside the whitewash has nothing to do with pitch conditions and hitting the correct lengths. So why? What has happened? Has someone just completely sapped the confidence of some players who double up as some of the most miserly bowlers in the longer format?
What is the real problem in the ODIs?
Finally, I started off by saying that AB De Villiers is under major pressure to prove that he is the right man to lead the side. I don't even want to look at his overall win-loss ratio because as the man calling the shots on the field he is still a very young captain.
I do worry though when I see on field marshalling of the troops such as that which transpired on Sunday - and this in a must-win game.
South Africa's match plan from the third ODI was simply cut and paste into the fourth, even though the strip in the middle played differently. Thankfully Mahela Jayawardene gave his wicket away when he looked very comfortable. Other than that, there was no real plan for the fourth match specifically. Our spin bowlers came on, were picked off and rotated without success, and we simply kept going with status quo. We all got excited when Ferhaan Berhardien, the surprise performer in the Proteas's only win in the series, was thrown the ball.
By then, both Dilshan and Sangakarra looked like only momentarily blindness or a bulldozer would dislodge them from the middle. What made it even worse was that captain De Villiers thought it appropriate for Behardien to bowl with the wicketkeeper up to the stumps from the first ball. Can you imagine the pressure he must have felt having only bowled 20 overs across the rest of his entire nine-match ODI career? It came as no surprise when two batsmen well set in their innings milked the wide-mouthed Berhardien for 14 runs in his only over in the match. In my humble opinion that was poor man management and poor tactics. And dare I say, poor poor Behardien.
If AB is the man to lead the ODI side over the long-term then he should be able to pull his men out of a hole even when his own batting is not able to put them on top of a hill.
We are yet to see the best of an extremely talented cricketer and leader. The patient wait continues.
Udo Carelse is the host of Sports Talk on Talk Radio 702 and 567 CapeTalk.