Proteas denied at the death


DURBAN – As tournament preparations go, Saturday night’s tense chase by South Africa against England was just what the doctor ordered.

There was a meaty total of 330/6 on the board for the Proteas to pursue, a decent track and a captive audience.

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David Miller put in some big hits, but was unable to take the Proteas over the line. Photo: Jason Cairnduff, Action Images via ReutersMark Wood defended eight runs in the final over to clinch victory for England. Photo: Matthew Childs, Action Images via Reuters

Beyond the Stormers’ visit to Kings Park and amidst the drama of the FA Cup, two of the ICC Champions Trophy’s staunchest challengers served up a tussle as sincere as the Southampton sun was brilliant.

But in the cold light of retrospect, South Africa will know they chucked it – and several times, too, just to be sure.

Going into the final over, David Miller (71 from 51 balls) and Chris Morris (36 from 22 balls) needed seven to seal a famous chase of 331, but were denied by a nerveless Mark Wood, who secured a two-run win for England.

South Africa’s much-vaunted engine room, from five to the gallows down below, were put to the test and, though Miller and Morris just about got there, they didn’t quite make it.

There will be loud laments about the balls gobbled up by the ineffective Farhaan Behardien (17 off 25 deliveries), who replaced JP Duminy.

Quinton de Kock was in top form against England on Saturday. Photo: Paul Childs, Action Images via Reuters

Had Morris come in ahead of him, there may have been a different conclusion. But the world doesn’t revolve on what-ifs and if-onlys.

The Proteas, brutal as it may sound, gave their rivals fresh ammunition to aim at them and their ability to soak up pressure in a high-stakes chase.

Quinton de Kock, as is his wont, followed up his failure in Leeds with a masterly 98. Where he had thrashed aimlessly three days before, he oozed timing and temperament, back in the groove of the season past.

More was the pity that he didn’t reach three figures, but bank on him coming good when it really matters. Between he and AB de Villiers (52), they just about broke the back of the English total, with an alliance dripping with quality and intent.

But, just like Messrs Amla and Du Plessis, there was a dereliction of duty.

Had one of them gone through, the whole matter may have been a procession. However, they fell with considerable meat on the bone, and Miller and Morris just couldn’t stomach it all.

Kagiso Rabada bowled with real pace and bounce at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. Photo: Paul Childs, Action Images via Reuters

South Africa had got into the chase on the back of the most underwhelming of fielding displays. Sitters were shelled close to the wicket and in the deep, and the sense of urgency and hustle that is taken for granted in all Proteas outfits was amiss.

De Villiers had a bee in his bonnet, and his body language did little to hide his dissatisfaction at the umpires not being in agreement about the match ball.

It didn’t look as if anyone in a green shirt was having too much fun out in the field, and England again tucked into the buffet at the death, reaching 330/6.

Andile Phehlukwayo came in for the first bit of punishment in a Proteas jersey, and lost his bearings at the end. If he is to be the death-bowling option along with Kagiso Rabada, a definitive plan is needed – and a Plan B, just in case.

Rabada stood alone, with comparatively miserly figures of 2/50. On the evidence of the first two matches, the experience and expertise of Morné Morkel can no longer be ignored.

Keshav Maharaj had a debut he will not forget. He could just as easily have had tidy figures with the cheap scalps of Alex Hales and Ben Stokes. Instead, both were shelled, and he was plundered in his latter spells. Stokes went on to register a ton, and that was the difference, ultimately.

Though South Africa lost the match in a chase, they chucked it well and truly in the field, and that is where much of their focus needs to turn to, a week away from the tournament proper.

Most of their batsmen are in decent touch, but they need to find their ruthless streak. Their bowlers, however – and the fielders – need to go back to the basics, because they have missed the mark badly so far.

The series concludes at Lord’s on Monday.

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