Proteas go from wilted to winners

In at the deep end: Tabraiz Shamsi made an impressive debut for the Proteas against Australia. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP)

In at the deep end: Tabraiz Shamsi made an impressive debut for the Proteas against Australia. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP)

Rarely in the history of South African sport has so much been put right with a single result than South Africa’s 47-run victory against Australia at the Providence Stadium in Georgetown on Tuesday. At least, that’s how it felt.

Having struggled to set a target of 190 in the one-day international Triangular Series match most South African observers expected a defeat similar to the one they suffered against their West Indian hosts at the same venue a week ago.

Instead, a rousing performance with the ball, involving three successful spinners, led to a victory so commanding that it was worth a bonus point to match the one Australia collected by dismantling the West Indies for an embarrassing 116. Suddenly the Proteas went from the bottom of the pile, literally and metaphorically, to the top.

The failed Cricket South Africa (CSA) independent review didn’t matter, Dale Steyn’s absence in the Caribbean was of no concern and the structure of the domestic game providing so few playing opportunities was forgotten.

The first Proteas chinaman bowler since Paul Adams, Tabraiz Shamsi, took a wicket in his first over with Aaron Phangiso and Imran Tahir collecting two each.

The new ball pairing of Wayne Parnell and Kagiso Rabada were both outstanding with 2-23 and 3-13 respectively to earn unexpected praise from the only Aussie batsman able to handle South Africa’s attack, opener Aaron Finch, who made a patient 72 from 103 balls on a painfully slow, dry pitch.

“On wickets that don’t really bounce, there can be just as much assistance for fast bowlers as there is for spin,” Finch said after the match.
“When the wicket is going down like that one, with some balls going underground and some bouncing normally, and the seamers are hitting consistent lengths, they can be very difficult. And they have some very good quicks – Rabada is an outstanding bowler and will be for a long time to come, and Parnell is very experienced.”

That South Africa even had a chance of victory was down to a fighting innings from the often maligned Farhaan Behardien, who showed the sort of calm and experience that Titans supporters see regularly.

Having crashed to 112-6 with more than 20 overs to bat, Phangiso blocked his way to an obdurate but valuable nine from 41 balls, with Rabada also offering admirable resistance with the bat, while Behardien punched the ball into gaps and ran between the wickets as hard and fast as anyone.

“We had a bold game plan with three frontline spinners. I don’t think South Africa have done that before,” Behardien said afterwards. (In fact, they did it three times during the 2011 World Cup when Tahir was joined by Johan Botha and Robin Peterson.)

But it was his Titans team-mate Shamsi most people were talking about this week.

“He brings a new energy to the team, adds a bit of mystery. Australia on debut … we just threw him in the deep end. But he has fire in his belly and he’s always up for the fight.”

The tournament now moves to Warner Park in St Kitts where former Proteas coach Eric Simons is in charge of the local Caribbean Premier League team, the Patriots.

Conditions will present many new challenges. “The boundaries are very short, particularly straight. The pitch can be batsman-friendly if prepared well but, if it’s dry, it does turn,” Simons said this week.

“Shamsi had figures of 4-10 for the Patriots there last season, so he won’t mind it turning.

“There is usually a strong wind off the ocean – easterly – which can provide some protection to the bowlers. The strategy from a batting and bowling perspective is to consider the wind. Wide yorkers, or similar tactics, forcing batsman to hit into the wind.

“From a batting perspective, hitting airborne into the wind is always dangerous. Captains need to give careful consideration to who bowls the closing overs, and from which end,” Simons said.

Behardien dismissed the horror batting show against the West Indies in the first game as a “blow-out” after mystery spinner Sunil Narine claimed the remarkable figures of 6-27.

“We actually batted well for about 35 overs but that can happen against a world-class spinner like him. We play spin well, as the 3-2 series win in India last year shows,” Behardien said.

Back at the Wanderers, the CSA finally agreed this week to play the third Test against Australia in Adelaide on November 24 as a day-night game using the proto­­type pink ball, which is supposed to be more visible at dusk and under floodlights than the normal red ball used during daylight.

Cricket Australia applied relentless pressure on their counterparts, with chief executive James Sutherland refusing to take “no thanks” for an answer, despite hearing it half a dozen times over the past month.

Aussie captain Steve Smith exercised some caution in welcoming the news. “Cricket Australia have got South Africa over the line on this. It’ll be a great spectacle and it’s incredibly exciting for all the fans,” he said in St Kitts this week. “As long as we keep looking to improve the ball … it was hard to see around sunset but they have made the seam with black stitching now so that should help.”

The only day-night Test played so far, between Australia and New Zealand last year, finished well within three days, with the fast bowlers prospering. Smith indicated that he expected much the same again.

“Sometimes you might even consider different tactics – maybe declare earlier while the sun is going down to have a bowl under lights,” he said with a knowing smile.

South Africa will play two warm-up day-night matches in Australia, the first when they arrive and the second immediately before the Test, both at the Adelaide Oval.

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