JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 24, Gary Kirsten during the South African National cricket team press conference at the Sandton Southern Sun Hotel on January 24, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa Photo by Duif du Toit / Gallo Images

Johannesburg - This was coach Gary Kirsten’s take on South Africa’s selection strategy for the One-Day series against New Zealand: “It’s a phase where we will try different combinations, mix and match, like we are doing, to see where we can plug the gaps. It’s not fool-proof.”

The result of the ODI series against New Zealand was a 2-1 defeat, but the intelligence gathered by Kirsten’s coaching staff and the selectors will hopefully bear fruit in two years’ time. It was a risky strategy, but it was one they had to take. The likes of Colin Ingram, Farhaan Berhadien, Ryan McLaren, Colin Ingram, Aaron Phangiso and to a lesser extent Quinton de Kock, deserved the opportunities to test the waters at international level and to be given more than just the odd game as has been the case particularly with McLaren in the past.

When looked at strictly in the context of the series outcome, it would be easy to say they failed. However, the experience they garnered in the past week can’t simply be consigned to the selection scrap heap. Ingram was asked to fill in the spot normally occupied by Jacques Kallis, and did a good job in Kimberley where he made 79, but he was less effective in the other two matches.

Ingram will have learnt that even though he made a substantial contribution in that second match, the fact that he didn’t carry on and post a century was part of the reason for South Africa’s defeat.

Similar lessons hold true for others; McLaren about mixing up his bowling, how to bowl yorkers more consistently at the “death” and how to score more efficiently at the end of an innings with the bat. Dave Miller, a relaxed character off the field, needs to bring that kind of composure to the middle when he bats, as does Berhadien.

De Kock needs time back in domestic cricket so that he can learn the importance of building an innings. In all three innings in the series he was dismissed in a frantic attempt to dominate the opposition bowling. It’s a problem he’s had at domestic level as well, and one that he can only resolve by playing more often for the Highveld Lions. Though his ’keeping improved through the series, he still looks like a player who was given an opportunity before his time.

Kirsten’s not sure yet whether De Villiers will return as ’keeper for the Pakistan series – he still wants De Villiers to focus more on the captaincy without the burden of keeping – but a decision needs to be made quickly. South Africa certainly are a better one-day side with De Villiers as wicketkeeper, just like they are a better Test team, according to Kirsten, with him donning the gloves.

De Villiers’s suspension, Kallis’s absence, the injuries to Hashim Amla and JP Duminy and the rotation policy employed with fast-bowling pair Morné Morkel and Dale Steyn meant the side lacked rhythm. From a bowling perspective, the only positive was a return to form for Lonwabo Tsotsobe. Otherwise ill-discipline was the glaring feature – they conceded a total of 68 extras including 37 wides.

Experience is crucial as South Africa fine-tune ahead of the premier ICC limited overs event for 2013 the Champions Trophy.

Graeme Smith showed as much with his superb century in Potchefstroom, which, while guiding South Africa to a much needed win, also showed the value he still brings to the 50-over format.

Though no longer captain, Smith was still the one doling out advice to the youngsters during the New Zealand series.

“I’ve been chatting with the less experienced players, on a relaxed basis, about the mistakes they’ve made and how to help them going forward,” he said Friday night.

“They’re very keen to learn and they approach me looking for information, so that makes my life easier. I have a good relationship with them as I’ve seen a lot of them coming in and out of the team over the years, so it’s nice to see them get more opportunities.”

Faf du Plessis, who stood in as captain for De Villiers after the latter’s suspension, was a relieved man on Friday night, almost collapsing into Smith before the presentation ceremony. “We had five new guys in this series alone which is unusual, but at least if any of our players get injured in a big tournament – like the Champions Trophy in England in June – we now have guys who have played under pressure at that level before,” he said.

Sunday Independent