Cape Town – So much for the “Newlands fortress” theory, or at least relating to one-day cricket, for it has been a plain old horrible weekend here in Cape Town for the Proteas.
First up was Friday’s night failed T20 run-chase that broke a run of six consecutive victories for South Africa over Pakistan. And now it has been followed with a performance on Sunday in the first one-day international that ranks alongside the worst the Newlands faithful have seen from the boys in green to hand Pakistan the Newlands “double”.
AB de Villiers’ team were simply awful in the field, with the skipper even being found guilty on occasion.
Catches were dropped, run-out attempts missed, and there was a general sloppiness that permeated throughout Pakistan’s innings.
It did not get much better with bat in hand either, even with the return of the experienced duo, Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, although in Kallis’ defence, he at least contributed to South Africa getting close with a half-century.
“After our good performances in the UAE where we took a couple of steps forward, we certainly took a a few backwards step. It was a really bad performance. We weren’t good enough. The urgency was lacking in the field, maybe the sun got to us, definitely in the last 10-15 overs. And the batting certainly was not good enough,” De Villiers said.
Earlier at 1.40pm though, the picture had looked so much different.
Newlands was shining in all its splendour and South African voices were loud and cheerful with the rainbow nation flags flying high.
Pakistan were reeling at 131/7 with Shahid Afridi trudging back to the pavilion. The maverick was the visitors’ last recognised batsman, with only a couple of greenhorns in Anwar Ali and Bilawal Bhatti to come followed by the tail-end talents of Saeed Ajmal and Junaid Khan.
South Africa were calling the shots, and they deserved it too at that stage, by bowling tight lines and effective use of the short ball.
It was a Test-match strategy employed by the full Test attack comprising of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morné Morkel and Kallis.
However, inspired by his confident display with the ball two days ago, Bhatti showed he had skills with the willow too. In the age old tradition of attack is the best form of defence, the 22-year-old showed no fear as he unleashed his power game, specifically against Morkel. Fellow debutant Ali followed Bhatti’s lead as they lasted 11.1 overs to grow Pakistan’s total by 74 runs.
The pair followed up their batting heroics by performing their primary bowling duties with distinction too. Every time South Africa looked like inching their noses in front, the visitors struck a crucial blow to keep the Proteas pinned to the floor.
Kallis looked like he had not missed a game, despite his 18-month ODI sabbatical, with a composed 50 off 71 balls (5x4, 1x6) and Duminy kept the tail wagging with consecutive back-to-the-wall innings, but only while these two were at the crease did South Africa look in any control during their run chase.
Smith was unfortunate to be stumped in the manner he was with his dismissal requiring the use of television replays, but there simply seemed no plan as to how South Africa were going to counter Ali (2/34), Bhatti (3/37) and Pakistan’s trio of spinners.
The run-chase required one significant partnership in the region of 100 runs. That was not forthcoming, though, which De Villiers conceded remains a major problem with this growing Proteas one-day team.
“We didn’t put together any partnerships and that is something that has been going on for a while. It happens especially when we’re batting second, perhaps it’s to do with the pressure. But I am not going to panic. I was really pleased with Jakes (Kallis) and most pleasing was the energy and hunger he showed in wanting to play for the Proteas.”
The teams travel to Port Elizabeth today for the second match of the series at St George’s Park on Wednesday, with De Villiers suddenly having lots more to think about than he might have imagined before this nightmare weekend in the Mother City.