AB de Villiers was asked this week where he would bat during the one-day international series against England – No4 or 5?
“No 5,” responded De Villiers.
“I’ve been batting at No 4. We try and mix it up. We did that against Sri Lanka depending on the situation. I’m probably set for No 4.”
So, he’s not sure then.
Since taking over as captain, De Villiers has batted in every position from three to six in the order while South Africa have used four different opening combinations in eight matches – including Wayne Parnell accompanying Hashim Amla to the crease in the final ODI against New Zealand in March.
It’s very much in keeping with coach Gary Kirsten’s strategy in one-day cricket.
The less predictable you are, the harder it will be for the opposition to strategise against you.
On the batting scorecard for Friday’s first ODI – unfortunately rained out – Dean Elgar was down to bat at No3. That would, however, certainly have changed had Graeme Smith and Amla got South Africa off to a quick start.
Elgar is an “accumulator” and not a big shot-maker, so an early wicket would probably have seen him in to provide a steady hand.
Then again, under Kirsten, Elgar may be asked to change his game slightly – not initially perhaps as they seek to get him comfortable with the requirements of the international game – but as he plays more, he could be asked to open or even finish the innings.
More than the opposition, though, what Kirsten is saying to his own players is to be more open-minded and less structured.
The successful South African ODI side of the mid to late ’90s – of which Kirsten was an important cog – were a regimented bunch, not given to too much flexibility.
That’s not to say Bob Woolmer, then coach and someone not afraid to innovate, didn’t try.
Lance Klusener opened the innings a few times, and Allan Donald went from opening the bowling to first change.
But at the World Cup in 1999, it was very formulaic, yet given the results, one could say it worked.
The advent of Twenty20 cricket changed the nature of the one-day game.
Besides showing how dull the middle bits could be, T20 cricket has also forced batsmen to push the limits of creativity with shot-making.
It’s also forced players not accustomed to attacking too early to throw caution to the wind.
Jacques Kallis has opened for his IPL side, the Kolkota Knight Riders, as has Faf du Plessis for the Chennai Super Kings. JP Duminy and Albie Morkel are finishers for their respective teams in that competition.
Kirsten wants to bring some of that mixing and matching to the one-day side.
De Villiers claimed he hadn’t thought about how the side may look during the series, but judging from what was seen against New Zealand and Sri Lanka earlier this year, don’t expect a set format.
In those eight matches, Kallis batted at No3 three times, Du Plessis twice and De Villiers and Morkel once each.
De Villiers, Duminy and Du Plessis batted at No4 at some point as did Colin Ingram, who is not in the current tour party.
In essence, Kirsten wants his players to be able to adapt to any situation.
De Villiers spoke about a brand of cricket that he wanted which entailed the side attacking when they were under pressure, and with the likes of Duminy and Du Plessis, who can change through the gears almost seamlessly, don’t expect to see South Africa to surrender meekly.
But do expect to see them try different combinations and to utilise various resources at different stages of the match – it could be a lot of fun. – Sunday Independent