SA heroes shake off form fears in batting lesson for top four
Three weeks ago, David Miller and JP Duminy were two of South Africa’s World Cup worries. After yesterday, they are at the sharp end of the challenge India will have to deal with in Melbourne on Sunday.
That did not seem likely in the days and weeks before South Africa opened their campaign against Zimbabwe at Seddon Park. Miller had not nailed down his place in the middle order. Duminy, meanwhile, was just back from injury. All that changed yesterday. South Africa will play tougher teams in this tournament than Zimbabwe, but they could not have asked Miller and Duminy to perform better.
Miller scored an undefeated 138. Duminy made 115 not out.
Their unbroken stand of 256 endured for 29.4 overs and is a World Cup record for the fifth wicket.
The stand took South Africa to a total of 339/4. The Zimbabweans’ reply of 277 looks decent, but in truth they chased respectability more than victory and were beaten by 62 runs.
What all this hides is that South Africa needed Miller and Duminy to come to their rescue after Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers had been removed by the 21st over with only 83 runs scored.
South Africa’s top four batted as if they had spent too much time at team meetings, training sessions and warm-up games planning how they would bat.
Yesterday, finally, what they did at the crease mattered – and they batted like men who had spent weeks doing too little. All will hope they have cleared those cobwebs away as India’s attack is the weakest among the World Cup contenders, but it is significantly stronger than Zimbabwe’s.
If a blueprint is required for them to snap out of the funk, Miller and Duminy provided it.
They hit the Zimbabwean bowlers off their lengths so comprehensively that a deluge of full tosses were ruthlessly dispatched.
Miller’s century was his second in the format after the 130 not out he scored against West Indies at St George’s Park last month. But, in his next three innings he made just 31.
Duminy, who earned his fourth ODI ton yesterday, had 73 runs to show for his three innings in the Windies series, but only 17 when the Proteas played Sri Lanka. Then he scored 80 against New Zealand.
What were South Africans to make of all that? Success against weak opposition and in glorified middle practices did not answer the questions that hung over the middle order.
And, after the match against the Kiwis last Wednesday, they had run out of opportunities to resolve them.
Consider those questions swered, at least until Sunday.
For their next trick, South Africa need to remember to keep their hands firmly around opposing batsmen’s throats even when there is little chance of the game slipping away.
Comparatively, Zimbabwe were ahead of South Africa until the end of the 46th over, and the 105 shared by Chamu Chibhabha and Hamilton Masakadza for the second wicket was only the sixth century stand for Zimbabwe in their 37 completed ODIs against South Africa.
Would Zimbabwe have had those reasons to be cheerful had South Africa not treated them like their little brothers in backyard cricket?
That is another question for another game, a game against Virat Kohli and company in Melbourne.