Cape Town: If South Africa are feeling on top of the world in the Test arena, there is much concern over their one day international form ahead of the Champions Trophy to be played in England and Wales in June. The Proteas enter into a five-match home series against Pakistan in Bloemfontein on Sunday searching for a winning formula in the shorter format of the game.
Bar a one-off fixture in the Netherlands in late May, this will be the final preparation for the side ahead of the Champions Trophy. "This is an important period for the ODI team; I think what is important for us is that we know that we can create some momentum in this team," coach Gary Kirsten told reporters this week.
South Africa lost a three-match home ODI series against New Zealand 2-1 last month, their third home series defeat in their last six encounters against visiting teams. They did rest key players through the three matches, but worryingly, those who were elevated in their place failed to shine.
It is form that has seen them drop to fourth in the ICC ODI Championship behind India, England and Australia. But Kirsten believes his team have shown enough, even in defeat, to suggest that they can climb that table again.
"We know that with the players that we have got we are able to win games in difficult situations and that is what it ultimately boils down to." No other Test-playing nation has played in fewer matches than South Africa's 21 in the 50 over format over the last three years.
The likes of India, Australia and Sri Lanka have played almost double that amount. It is in this format of the game where the 'chocker' tag hangs heaviest around their necks, and despite Kirsten's assertion, closing out matches has been their biggest failing.
The series against New Zealand provided the perfect example, with the side putting themselves into strong winning positions in all three matches, only to come up short in two of those, once with the ball and the other with the bat.
It has been acknowledged by all in the Proteas camp that their ODI form is well short of where they would like it to be. For a side that sets such high standards in the Test arena, continual failure in the 50-over format is all the more frustrating.
Bar the rested Jacques Kallis, who South Africa are hoping to persuade to give up the shorter formats of the game to prolong his Test career, and the injured JP Duminy, South Africa will enter the series with Pakistan with what they consider their best ODI current selection.
"I think that the players that are here are the best players in the country, that is why they are selected," Kirsten said. "People often say we are experimenting. We are not experimenting, we are playing the best players.
"You have to have a squad, you can't just have 11, you have to be able to move with the squad. We did that with the Test squad where we had a lot of change-ups. We are looking at the best 18 players knowing that we need to be able to shift and move around."
It is therefore a series that will tell much about their potential and their path forward under the leadership of AB de Villiers, who takes over from Test skipper Graeme Smith in the shorter version of the game.
"We have 20 games on the trot before we play another Test match so we are able to have a good focus on our one-day team," Kirsten added.
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