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Over the 21 years South Africa have been back in the international fold, there have been only five official one-day captains. Today, in the first ODI against Sri Lanka at Boland Park, AB de Villiers will become the sixth.
Considering that the first, Clive Rice, was only in charge for three matches of the inaugural tour to India in 1991, it is clear the Proteas choose their leaders with great care. Usually they are players who have been earmarked since their schooldays, like Hansie Cronje and Shaun Pollock, and have gained extensive leadership experience. De Villiers, though, is not from this mould.
He openly admits “it’s unknown territory for me” and “I never captained at provincial or franchise level”, but there is a refreshing honesty about De Villiers that will should stand him in good stead in his first leadership assignment.
In his first official pre-match press engagement as leader of the nation yesterday at Newlands, De Villiers was confident and eager to convey that he was going to imprint his own philosophy on the Proteas after eight years under Graeme Smith’s helm.
“I won’t be scared to try new things and add a bit of flair,” he said. “Graeme and I are different individuals; we are not the same human beings. I have learnt a few things from the side of the field recently in terms of strategy, and I am really excited.”
But while the spotlight will be on De Villiers – it’s hard for it not to be, considering he keeps wicket, bats in the top-order and leads the team – there will be intense scrutiny of the entire Proteas playing unit during this series starting in Paarl today. The most recent home ODI series against Australia did not go according to plan, with the visitors triumphing 2-1.
Success in one-day cricket often relates to players being comfortable in their individual roles. The return of an experienced first-class campaigner like Albie Morkel will also be monitored, especially in terms of the balance of team.
“We certainly missed a trick in the Australian series here and there. We didn’t attack at the right times, and it is about identifying the situation and seeing where is the gamebreaker. There certainly are a few spots up for the grabs,” De Villiers said.
De Villiers’s decision to keep wicket, which he says is for the “long term”, certainly does open up a couple of places lower down the Proteas batting line-up, and allows coach Gary Kirsten some breathing room in terms of options. One of these is whether to play both spinners, Johan Botha and Robin Peterson, today on a surface that is likely to suit the slower bowlers.
It would be an unlikely scenario, though, considering the Proteas have part-timers JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis available, leaving Peterson as the likely sole spinner because of his greater attacking prowess in comparison to Botha.
Peterson has fond memories of last facing Sri Lanka, after being the last-man standing in the line of Lasith Malinga’s four wickets in four balls in the 2007 World Cup Group match in Guyana, with the left-hander edging the winning runs.
Malinga will again be the tourists’ main strike weapon today, with his mixture of venomous yorkers and searing bouncers a real threat to Smith and Hashim Amla up front. The mop-haired fast bowler provided ominous warning signs to the Proteas when he produced a bristling spell in the warm-up match against the Emerging Cobras in Brackenfell on Monday, with Cobras star Richard Levi being one of his scalps.
“He is very experienced and is the leader of our attack. It’s good that he is back,” Sri Lanka skipper Tillakaratne Dilshan said yesterday.
Five battles to watch out for in Paarl:
1 AB de Villiers v Tillakaratne Dilshan
Both captains are instinctive players, with a love for adventure, especially when it comes to their shot-making. Dilshan’s “Dilscoop” is particularly impressive. However, they are now the leaders of their respective teams, with the Sri Lankan shading his counterpart in terms of experience. Will this extra responsibility kill off the flair that makes them such tough competitors, though? Dilshan has already showed in the Test series he only knows one way of playing. Will De Villiers follow suit?
2 Graeme Smith v
Smith has endured a torrid time in one-day cricket for the past two years, having not scored a century since his epic 141 against England in the 2009 Champions Trophy. Unfortunately for the former Proteas ODI captain, it is not going to get easier during this series with Malinga rifling in yorkers in excess of 150km/h. Malinga no longer plays Test cricket and keeps himself in tune with short stints in Twenty20 tournaments around the world before being unleashed in the blue and yellow of his country. A fascinating contest awaits.
3 JP Duminy v
South Africa’s former boy wonder has been playing first-class cricket in a bid to work on a few technical issues as he plots his return to the Test cricket. One of them has been to work on his gameplans against spinners, and Mendis will surely provide Duminy with a good test today. Mendis, though, is not a conventional off-spinner like England’s Graeme Swann, but more a mystery bowler with the “carrom ball” being his most effective weapon.
4 Dale Steyn v
Two of the greatest modern-day players, with any battle between them setting the tongues wagging. Steyn is the world’s premier fast bowler, while Sangakkara holds the key to his team’s batting effort. When he plays well, the rest of the Sri Lankan batting line-up usually follow. De Villiers will be looking to Steyn to knock over the former captain early in Paarl today.
5 Proteas v
Gary Kirsten’s team had not been to Boland Park before this morning. South Africa have not played there since Kirsten himself scored a career-saving century against Pakistan ahead of the 2003 World Cup. The Proteas have opted to train at Newlands this week, while Sri Lanka have been in the winelands preparing. The Paarl pitch has previously resembled a sub-continent surface, which could play into the visitors’ hands.
LIKELY TEAMS FOR PAARL
South Africa: Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, JP Duminy, AB de Villiers (capt, wk), Faf du Plessis, Albie Morkel, Robin Peterson/Johan Botha, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
Sri Lanka: Upul Tharanga, Tillakaratne Dilshan (capt), Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera, Lasith Malinga, Rangana Herath, Nuwan Kulasekara, Ajantha Mendis.
Umpires: Billy Doctrove and Marais Erasmus.
TV umpire: Richard Kettleborough.
Start: 2:30pm, TV: SS2, SABC3 - Cape Times