Reeza Hendricks played with much greater freedom after the first rain interruption against Pakistan on Friday. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – South Africa will take to the Wanderers in Johannesburg for the “Pink ODI” today (10am start) having yet to put together a performance in this series against Pakistan that suggests they will be serious World Cup contenders.

There are multiple reasons for the far from stellar performances.

Injuries, more experimenting with selection, players being tentative because they’re trying to impress so that they can get selected, dropped catches, and Pakistan, who are a good, highly skilled limited-overs team have all contributed to the situation.

Proteas captain Faf du Plessis and his troops, although 2-1 up in the five-match series, are still searching for the best team balance and a really top-quality performance.

Today, they hope to produce something close to the latter, at least. Wearing pink has suited the Proteas since Cricket South Africa decided to combine one of the ODIs each summer with the breast cancer awareness initiative.

They’ve produced five wins out of five in all sorts of different scenarios, from Chris Morris’s late heroics against England in 2016 to the more dominant display on the back of AB de Villiers’ magical century against the West Indies the year before.

Even last year, when they were starting out on this broad limited-overs personnel assessment and were getting battered by India, they found something extra to win in pink, their sole victory in an otherwise unsuccessful series.

From within the side, the problems they’ve had in this series are not something they are letting wear them down.

Reeza Hendricks, who scored an unbeaten 83 at Centurion in the third ODI – which was won via Duckworth/Lewis and Stern’s mathematics – described the poor fielding at SuperSport Park on Friday night, when five catches were dropped, as “just one of those bad days”.

This can happen, of course, although from outside the team, it is a concern, given that “one of those days” also occurred two weeks ago in a Test match at the Wanderers, when four catches were dropped in an hour.

Perhaps that’s an indication of the relaxed nature Du Plessis wants to create in a squad he admitted last week he could sense was feeling the tension.

Certainly in the manner Hendricks played after the first rain interruption on Friday would suggest Du Plessis and coach Ottis Gibson’s message about playing freely might be getting through to the players.

Today will offer another opportunity to see further evidence of that.

Pakistan were able to put a troubling week behind them – following the racial slur their captain Sarfraz Ahmed directed at Andile Phehlukwayo in the second ODI – and put in a batting performance (albeit one that saw them get a lot of help from their opponents) that spoke volumes for their mental toughness.

The prize of being the first team to defeat the Proteas when they wear pink will be a nice feather in their caps, and of course, more importantly, it will keep the series alive and set up a decider in Cape Town on Wednesday.

The first ball today will be bowled at 10am.


Sunday Independent

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