Fifty-over cricket has life left in it yet

Such was the impact made by the Test series on Australians and South Africans alike, it seemed destined to leave the five-match one-day series sucking the hind tit for both nations’ interest.

Not so.

After two enthralling and closely contested matches in Melbourne and Hobart, it would appear that 50-over cricket has life left in it yet.

Friday’s day-nighter at the Sydney Cricket Ground is already close to a sell-out and, after four long days without combat, the prospect of these closely matched teams locking horns again has been attracting front and back page news.

The local media’s clamour for JP Duminy stories led to a press conference appearance before training on Wednesday. ‘Victory in this series will give either team a big lift before the Test series in South Africa.

Both countries have quite a few different players in their Test and one-day teams, but it still means a lot if you have won. It helps with momentum,” Duminy said.

Prompting incredulous shakes of Aussie heads, the 24-year-old insisted that his place in the Test XI was not guaranteed with vice-captain Ashwell Prince having recovered from a broken thumb, which gave Duminy his unexpected chance.

‘I was a replacement and everybody else in the top six deserves to keep their place, so it’s up to the selectors, but I always knew where I stood. The only difference now is that I’m a lot more comfortable with Test cricket,” he said.

As he should be with a match-winning, unbeaten 50 in Perth followed by one of the greatest innings in SA Test history, the 166 (and ninth wicket stand of 180 with Dale Steyn), which transformed the Melbourne Cricket Ground Test and turned the series on its head.

Too much can happen in one week of international cricket to predict anything, let alone the month which still lies ahead before the Wanderers Test on February 26.

Brett Lee could be fit and effective; Stuart Clark could be back. Mike Hussey might be back in form and Mitchell Johnson could be even more effective after a fortnight’s rest immediately after the Test series. If two of the four possibilities materialise, the Proteas could find it even harder to win at home than they did in Australia.

Equally, if Makhaya Ntini runs out of gas at home as quickly as he did in Australia, or—heaven forbid—Steyn loses form or fitness, then it might be South Africa facing the prospect of rebuilding their attack.

But for now, all eyes are on the remaining three ODIs. ‘I have tried to make it clear to the public that we are rebuilding the team; that we have a long-term view towards the 2011 World Cup in Asia. That’s the truth and there’s no escape from that,” says coach Mickey Arthur.

‘But at the same time, that’s not the message we have been giving the players. They can make a name for themselves right now and, if they believe in themselves, then they can win. Nobody has ever said to them that losing is acceptable, because it isn’t. But the public needs to understand that winning regularly with a settled team is easier than with a new one,” Arthur said.

As far as the ‘rotation” of fast bowlers is concerned, the coach admits that leaving Steyn out of the team is a hard decision to make. ‘Ideally, I’d like everyone to have a game before the series is over. Everybody knows the importance of managing the workloads of key players but Dale is crucial at both ends of the innings. Hopefully he’ll get a rest at some stage — three-one ahead would be nice!”

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