South Africa’s loss in the second ODI in New Zealand this week once again brought home the importance of death bowling in tight finishes. The Black Caps were able to get their yorkers in to great effect in the last few overs and won by six runs, a margin of defeat that flattered the Proteas because they hit the last two balls for fours when they were already out of contention needing 15 off two to win.
For my money, there has been too much emphasis in recent years in South African bowling strategy on bowling the ball into the pitch, varying pace, using the short ball etc. Tim Southee and Trent Boult simply got the ball in the blockhole when it really mattered and the batsmen found it impossible to do anything more than jab the deliveries away.
Sure, if there’s a set batsman in at the time then they can make the margin for error infinitesimally small by moving deeper into their crease or stepping out, but it’s been a long-standing weakness of South African bowlers that they cannot consistently get the yorker in. Perhaps because back at home in domestic cricket on pitches of bounce and seam movement there is less necessity, but in international cricket they get exposed.
This week I sought the wise counsel of Gordon Parsons, the bowling coach of the Highveld Lions team that won the 50-over competition last season, so they must be doing something right.
“The more things change in the game, the more they seem to stay the same. And I’m very much of the belief that nothing’s changed when it comes to a good yorker still being the best ball at the death. If a bowler can master three different variations then he’ll be a quality performer. Trying six, seven, eight different deliveries just complicates the mind and sometimes I feel using variations is an excuse for a lack of execution of the regular skills,” Parsons, the taker of 356 limited-overs wickets at an average of 30.75 and an economy rate of just 4.07, said.
“Sometimes bowlers hide behind the slower ball, but how many deliveries hit the same spot? The best bowlers do the simple things really well – look at Imran Tahir, who is the world’s number one limited-overs bowler and basically bowls wicket-to-wicket. He’s become better the simpler he’s made it. Bowlers have got to keep it simple,” Parsons, who took 809 first-class wickets in a 19-year career for two English counties and three South African teams, said.
The last time the Proteas were in New Zealand was for the 2015 World Cup and for the seventh time they fell short at the ICC’s premier tournament, conceding 9.8 runs per over in the last five overs of their fateful semifinal against the Black Caps.
With Tahir at number one and Kagiso Rabada ranked seventh, South Africa have the makings of a decent attack, but neither of them are known for their death bowling, both instead proving brilliant at breaking partnerships in the middle overs.
Rabada does have a lethal yorker, which I’d like to see him use more, and Chris Morris and Wayne Parnell could both be pretty effective if they can get swing and find the blockhole more consistently. Andile Phehlukwayo has the variations, but the same applies to him.
I saw an interesting statement this week from a radio sports broadcaster that the current attack is South Africa’s best ever in ODI cricket, but for me, the 1996 World Cup line-up of Allan Donald, Fanie de Villiers, Shaun Pollock, Craig Matthews, Pat Symcox and Brian McMillan, with Hansie Cronje and Jacques Kallis as the sixth and seventh bowlers, is hard to beat.