Cape Town – The likelihood of South Africa earning a remarkable, come-from-behind one-day international series triumph over England in the appetising decider at Newlands on Sunday may well depend on
Call me a spoilsport, if you must, but I suspect I will not be alone among observers in submitting that Chris Morris’s freakish clean striking (the “lone ranger”, as television commentator Mike Haysman correctly put it) when all seemed lost rescued them from early surrender of the series in Friday’s Bullring nail-biter.
The lanky bowling all-rounder’s whirlwind knock of 62 off 38 deliveries, which all but carried them over the line, was marked by audacious, deeply pleasing self-belief from a player who has had his ups and downs against England over the course of the multi-format summer yet always looked as though he was a resilient soul and capable of something a bit special.
Finally it came for the determined 28-year-old, who had triggered some incredulous, open mouths when he fetched $1-million recently to represent the Delhi Daredevils in this year’s Indian Premier League – people may be starting to understand now what the fuss was about.
Still, even Morris got extremely lucky in the early stages of his innings when, with the Proteas staring ominously down the barrel of going a fatal 3-1 down in the five-match series, he rashly slogged a Reece Topley ball into the deep and was dropped by Adil Rashid.
Had the fielder held on, we would instead have been rightly chastising -- in a highly likely post-mortem -- the batsman joining a host of compatriots in damagingly frittering away his wicket.
It is seldom that South Africa, at one of their most beloved limited-overs venues, see so many of their key stroke-players “get in” but then in several instances be architects of their own downfalls having reached the twenties or thirties.
Indeed, had England been less butter-fingered or hit the stumps with throws more, the Proteas’ series fate might have been settled with some degree of comfort by the tourists.
The host nation continue to look alarmingly too frantic and headless-chicken when a wobble sets in, making error after error in shot selection or electing to take madcap singles when there is still scope for sobriety because of a generous tally of overs remaining.
And while Morris turned out to be their heroic, get-out-off-jail figure, it remains all too obvious that the XI, as presently assembled, is structurally a man light in proven heavy-scoring potential. It so nearly proved costly on Friday.
The continued omission of Rilee Rossouw – some would suggest David Miller’s name instead – amongst the top six in the order is baffling, especially when you take into account that in the last two matches the moderate-firing, supposed “batting all-rounders” at five and six, JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien, have been used negligibly or not at all with the ball.
In defence of the often maligned Behardien, he was looking a model of solidity, intelligence and enterprise during the course of his 38 off 42 balls at the Wanderers before he fell victim to a smart caught-and-bowled by Topley.
He is a better cricketing package than some sceptics will give him credit for; I have certainly always believed that.
But his record continues to reveal a lack of seriously influential scores in the 50-overs landscape, whereas from fewer opportunities someone like Rossouw already sports a brace of big, withering tons.
As things stand, you can’t help getting twitchy about what’s to come in the entire remainder of the order whenever the Proteas go two or three wickets down quicker than they would like.
Perhaps the team’s strategists will stay weirdly intransigent on that front at Newlands, although at least the bowling unit is taking on a hint of a settled hallmark and an improved Imran Tahir went a long way to making life a tad easier for South Africa in the middle period of the English innings.
You could argue that from 108 for six, the Proteas let their foes off the hook to 262 all out ... but that would be failing to take into account the sheer, breathtaking class of Joe Root, who notched a second successive century in difficult, pressured circumstances.
A note of extra caution about Newlands on Sunday (10:00 start): the ground has not been kind to South Africa in either of their last two ODIs there, featuring defeats to Pakistan in 2013 and India in 2011.
But in the game immediately before those, on England’s last tour in the 2009/10 season, the Proteas thrashed Andrew Strauss’s side by 112 runs, with now-captain AB de Villiers earning a three-figure score and the man-of-the-match award.
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