South Africa back to basics in batting in an ODI

JP Duminy and AB de Villiers showed how crafting an innings should be done, writes Osman Samiuddin.

JP Duminy did not hit much boundaries but his sharp running in the middle overs were remarkable for South Africa. Satish Kumar / The National
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Remember how ODIs used to be? That time when openers would try to get some early runs in when the restrictions were on, take a chance against a new, possibly swinging ball.

Then batsmen would bring to bear all their acumen and fitness in negotiating those middle overs when the fielders were out.

They would run hard, play the angles and steal singles and, if the ground was big enough, get those lungs pumping by pushing doubles and triples. Bowling sides would often try and get a choke on, maybe with their spinners, maybe with some tiddly medium-pacers or lightweight all-rounders.

This was the bit where, incidentally, we are told fans were falling asleep. Maybe many were just taking stock, contemplating the game’s slow and gradual revelation, happily swimming in the uncertainty of how the innings would end.

Then, if the batting side had wickets in hand, they would try and double their score at the 30th over. PowerPlays promised to given them a little boost on the way. An old, soft and dirty ball would sometimes be replaced after 34 overs and a harder, cleaner one would also help batsmen.

The overs uncharitably known as the death would then arrive, bringing the promise of victory for batsmen, bowlers, or more often than you think, both. Does that sound familiar?

It should, because it is not as if those ODIs have gone anywhere. They are right here still. There was one at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium last night, in fact, where, once South Africa had worked their way to 259, you sensed immediately the total was a good, decent and honest one. A fair one even.

It has been easy in recent weeks to get carried away with thoughts of a new age of ODI batting, propelled by a breed of young, impossibly aggressive batsmen from India and Australia, all honed in the relentless frenzy of the IPL.

But the evidence for it is flimsy. The boundaries, sixes and runs in the India-Australia ODI series were a chemical high, induced by wickets found only in batting heaven, moderately sized boundaries and, crucially, two pretty weak bowling attacks.

It is not to take too much away from men such as Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan or George Bailey, or even Rohit Sharma.

More often than not, these guys will score good runs in most conditions (admittedly, Sharma might not be there just yet). But their numbers still flattered them.

Last night’s surface in Abu Dhabi was a far fairer one and probably more representative as a whole, of ODI surfaces around the world, except sometimes in India. There was reward for shots of conviction, down the ground and square. There was enough for bowlers of all kinds as well: turn for spinners, bounce for all, some swing and occasionally some grip.

South Africa’s total was built on wholly organic and sweaty virtues. Five of their top six got to at least 34. Both Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis got fair purchase for their strokes. In particular Du Plessis caught the eye, under pressure at one down, but capable of defying it. As Ahmed Shehzad all too briefly demonstrated later in the evening, good cricket shots brought reward.

But the real engine of South Africa’s total was the stand between JP Duminy and AB de Villiers. That traversed the middle overs in which, despite the same fielding restrictions that applied in India and were criticised for further neutering bowlers, they put on an unfashionably measly 70.

Boundaries were hard to come by; the pair managed only five between them. But the running was sharp, the effect that of multitudinous paper cuts to the hold Pakistan’s spinners were threatening to apply.

In all South Africa ran 20 doubles and triples and 106 singles. There were only 24 boundaries and just a solitary six, which came off the third-last ball of the innings and yet never did their run-rate feel like it was flagging.

It was just very smart batsmanship and so subtle that Pakistan – Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Hafeez excepted – could feel rightly that they bowled pretty well.

That it produced such a thumping is mostly due to Pakistan’s batting difficulties.

It should not detract from the virtues of the inherent evenness that initially produced it.

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