Well, it’s clear that the Proteas need a lot of work when it comes to the T20 format. Many reasons, some bordering on excuses, have been thrown around but the fact of the matter is that those who follow the game would’ve seen it coming. South Africa’s T20 cricket has looked dismal for a while now, masked by a high win percentage in one World Cup. Look, I’m not the biggest advocate of the format or its success and if you read anything I write, you’ll know that by now. However, when your country is thoroughly beaten on home soil and has the appearance of veritable rabbits in the T20 game, it’s bound to get your back up. Pride knows little bounds. And it is exactly this which the Proteas will be fighting for in what is certain to be a close ODI series.
South Africa 11/20
Luckily, the 50-over format is a far more comfortable one for the Proteas. It sees the return of the world’s best batsman in the format, Hashim Amla, who is closely followed by the South African captain, AB de Villiers. De Villiers hasn’t had an easy start to his captaincy, his role in the team constantly being reconsidered while he attempts to lead a side that he also hasn’t had the opportunity to captain on a consistent basis due to injury, rest or suspension. Once you add Graeme Smith into the mix, you see a potent top-order begin to develop but it is those who make up the slots in between that bring cause for concern. Faf du Plessis all of a sudden looks a far more complete test cricketer than the formats he’s been earmarked to perform in, Colin Ingram is yet to find a semblance of consistency and David Miller, although promising, hasn’t shown the guts required in order to change the course of a game. Although the batting in the T20 at Centurion was shambolic, the bowlers let the game get away from them by bowling predictable lines and lengths to batsmen looking to innovate. Pakistan will come out with the same aggression here, and a lot will rest on the shoulders of Tsotsobe and Steyn.
A win after a tough test series can do wonders for a side on the road. Pakistan will now feel the wind in their sails and being the type of side that thrives in their role as perpetual underdogs, will be looking to take the ODI silverware with them. It was an unfettered aggression that swung the solitary T20 in their favour, both with the bat in Mohammad Hafeez and with the ball in Umar Gul. Hafeez should move back to opening the batting in the 50-over format, which may make the middle-order a tad vulnerable with the likes of Misbah and Younis Khan struggling for consistent form. However, the Akmal brothers are among the most unpredictable performers in the game and Shahid Afridi is back in the squad after being axed. Gul is a fantastic limited overs bowler and Saeed Ajmal tops the ODI rankings in that department. The match, let alone the series, looks almost too close to call, with both sides possessing marked strengths, but also probable flaws.
Bloemfontein will play host to the opening ODI and although having fallen out of favour as a regular venue in recent times, seems to be in the CSA’s plans for spreading the game. South Africa actually have a great record here, not having lost since 2002. They’ve won their last five matches in Bloem, albeit against weak opposition, and will look to continue their proud record on Sunday.
BEST: Top South African Batsman, AB de Villiers, 4/1
The captain has been in some fantastic form of late and will be looking to carry it over to the ODIs. He was the only batsmen that showed any enterprise against the Pakistan attack in the previous T20 and looks comfortable at the crease. Have a strike on AB.
VERDICT: South Africa 11/20
Based on past form at the ground, the embarrassment of their T20 capitulation and the quality returning to the side, I see this one going South Africa’s way. I’m not completely sure of the effect that Ajmal will have on the Bloemfontein pitch, but based on past results, the spinners don’t seem to fare too well here. Back the Proteas.