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Battle for legitimacy: Proteas nab top spot

February 01, 2009

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SA topple Aus to become top ODI side

Gone are the days when a match against Australia [Images] used to be a foregone conclusion for other teams, in any format of the game. Thanks to South Africa [Images] and India for their performances against the World champions in last couple of months.

This was the worst summer the Aussies have experienced in last decade. Finally, Australia lost the top spot to South Africa in ODIs after having nearly survived the wrath of losing it in the longer format of the game. The result of the series doesn't tell the actual story, at times.

The Aussies had upper hand in 1st and 3rd ODIs, but the Africans had their share of luck and managed to come from behind. However, Ponting's men still have an opportunity to reclaim the crown quickly when the five-match ODI series gets underway against their Trans-Tasman rivals. It's no bed of roses though, as the Kiwis are very hard nuts to crack and they always go hammer and tongs against their western neighbors.

Ponting ran short of resources and sorely missed the services of his deputy, Michael Clarke [Images], Lethal Lee, wily Clark and all-rounder Symonds. The Aussies clearly lack the bench strength unlike South Africa, who had fielded two uncapped players in the dead rubber at Perth.

It seems that Ponting is sweeping his problems under the carpet and, as a result, victories are very hard to come by. The team which he had at his helm a year back and the one he has currently is as different as chalk from cheese and he is aware of this fact. It's great that he maintained his form nevertheless, after being surrounded by so many concerns, but losing two Tests and a one-day series in a season must be a bitter pill to swallow for him. Injuries to key players haven't helped the cause and Hayden's exit has added more woes to his injuries, though Hayden's exit was as inevitable as fall of the Soviet Union.

The younger breed is too inexperienced to blame and has played well in patches. Warner looks a better prospect for the future. He is a better option to invest in as he plays the ball according to its merit, though he is an attacking player. He can send the bowlers across the park as he did in first 20-20 and looks like a younger version of Gilchrist. He has shown what he can do with the international level bowlers without even playing a single first class game. But a little more consistency is required from him along with his fellow-opener Marsh, at this level, though the latter has scored couple of fifties in this series.

Ricky was at his usual best and managed to score 214 runs in 5 games at 43, but has missed a trick of scoring big. The pace attack lacks the teeth and could not manage to get breakthroughs when partnerships got going. Ponting went through motions because of his bowlers and their inability to bowl a good line in slog overs, which in turn has cost him the series.

The Africans on the other side looked a desperate bunch and worked really hard. They were not building the castles in the air and knew where all the bodies were buried. An injury to Smith was a big blow for Africans, before the series started and Johan Botha got the nod for leading the then second-ranked side, ahead of some proven performers like Kallis and Boucher.

This move was highly debatable but Johan is a renaissance man who rose from the ashes and won the hearts with his tactics and effective bowling changes. The positive in him is that he goes by the book and doesn't try too much. He bowled a pretty nagging line to tie down the Aussies and kept building the pressure on rival batsmen. He also had the luxury of a fine-tuned pace attack of Messrs Steyn, Ntini and Morkel. All their main batsmen had a good series and delivered when it mattered, which kept the Aussies at bay in their own backyard.

Albie Morkel who sent Aussies packing, was like a double whammy for them and has rightly won the man of the series award. The 27 year old all-rounder has had lions share in this triumph. The middle order responded well and everybody got runs under their belts. The ever improving Amla and young de Villiers had a good series with the bat and the latter has donned the gloves in the absence of regular keeper Boucher, in latter part of the series. South Africa lost only 2nd game which went down to the wire and Australia managed a narrow victory.

A Devon Loch kind of efforts from Boucher were not enough at Hobart and Australia managed their lone, 5-run win. The debutant Tsotsobe had a dream debut and has shown avowed intent. The 24-year-old left hand seamer bent his back and bowled fiercely with some good pace. But he is yet to prove his worth as he will have to compete with the likes of Steyn, Ntini, Morne and Nel. 

So with twin series wins in one fruitful tour, South Africa will go back with a lot of confidence and a top ODI spot. Though Johan has shown some skills while leading the side, Smith will take over, if fully fit. SA will try to make their only unfulfilled dream on this tour of being number 1 test side, come true. Australia need to sort their fitness problems out and should go to Africa with a full-fledged team as they have some scores to settle with. They can get some confidence by winning the series against Kiwis. The African pitches will be a litmus test for Ponting and his younger brigade. Overall, a very exciting series comes to an end. With India doing really well, a three way race is on for the top spot.

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