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Johannesburg – The last time South Africa played a one-day international in Bloemfontein they were lucky to escape with a win that ultimately decided the series against Sri Lanka just over a year ago.
They gather in the “City of Roses” on Thursday morning to prepare for a critical five-match series with Pakistan seeking consistency and confidence heading into the premier one-day competition for the year, the Champions Trophy, which starts in England in June.
South Africa have a solid record in Bloemfontein, winning 13 of 20 ODIs they’ve played there. Last year’s day/night encounter with the Sri Lankans was firmly in the balance when rain intervened with AB de Villiers’ side narrowly winning by four runs on the Duckworth/Lewis Method.
Until that match with the two-time World Cup runners-up, Bloemfontein had been a venue which had only sporadically popped up on the international schedule with matches taking place every two seasons and mostly – certainly in recent seasons – against the lesser nations.
Sunday’s first ODI is the first high-profile match there since the tied match with England in 2005.
Pakistan will provide a searching examination of South Africa’s one-day status over the next few weeks. While they, like South Africa, are also searching for consistency, they also have the players capable of putting the home team under pressure with bat and ball.
South Africa need to string some positive results together while aligning strategies and personnel.
Gary Kirsten recently spoke of the importance of absorbing the lessons from the series loss to New Zealand, where South Africa were in winning positions in all three matches but only managed to close out one, and that came about rather nervously in the final match in Potchefstroom.
Kirsten referred to taking “a few steps back” in order to fulfil “a longer term vision”, and that has been at the core of the “exploration” that’s taken place with the one-day team under Kirsten’s tenure as coach.
The bigger picture as far as Kirsten and the players is concerned remains the World Cup in Australia which is now less than two years away. There remains some wiggle room for experimenting, but in the shorter term they also need to be aware of the Champions Trophy, which provides another opportunity for that much sort-after ICC limited overs silverware.
With that in mind, players like Rory Kleinveldt, Ryan McLaren, Dave Miller can bed down starting spots for the June event, while Lonwabo Tsotsobe needs to remind everyone why he is still ranked in the top five ODI bowlers in the world.
Colin Ingram finds himself in the most awkward position. He is likely to step aside should Jacques Kallis be picked for England – Kirsten was still negotiating with Kallis about his presence there and he was left out of this series and is still recovering from the calf strain picked up before the final Test at Centurion two weeks ago.
Ingram may score a mountain of runs in the next few weeks and still find himself sidelined should Kallis be considered for England.
The 27-year-old left-hander, who’s played 18 ODIs, battled with injury during the Momentum 1-Day Cup averaging just 20.66 as he made only 124 runs in six innings. He’s been steady for his franchise in the Ram Slam T20 Challenge much as he was during the ODI series with New Zealand where he had a couple of scores in the 20s sandwiched in between a well-constructed 79 in the second match.
Ingram was, however, complicit in the meltdown in Kimberley where five South Africans were run out as the series was lost.
Overall South Africa have an excellent record in ODIs against the Pakistanis winning 38 out of the 57 matches between the sides. Fourteen of those wins have come on home soil. The last time they met in South Africa, the home team won the five-match series 3-1 just before the 2007 World Cup.
South Africa also emerged victorious the last time the two teams met in an ODI series, in the United Arab Emirates in 2010, winning the final match of a five-match series to claim a 3-2 triumph.
After Sunday’s match in Bloemfontein the teams head up to Gauteng for a double-header; with the second match in Centurion next Friday, the third at the Wanderers two days later. The fourth is in Durban on March 21 and the series ends in Benoni three days later. – The Star