In & Out: Strong starters don’t always get a happy ending

2014-11-09 15:00

A part from the minor T-20 hiccup against Australia on Friday, it would appear the Proteas are unstoppable.

They manhandled New Zealand last month after a great triangular series victory the month before.

In the process, they briefly ascended to the top of the International Cricket Council ODI rankings and are currently settled at second, behind India.

Our boys are motoring away in what was described by one cricket journalist this week as their “intensive World Cup preparation”.

With every word coming out the Proteas camp these days World Cup-themed, it’s safe to say they’re setting themselves up, once again, to be the favourites for the tournament.

Perhaps they should be more discreet about their tactics.

The pressure that comes with the tag of favourites can be suffocating, as shown by our boys so many times in the past, but also by Australia recently in their two-match test series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.

Cricket’s golden boys pulled a Protea and choked. Now they’re left staggering into an ODI series against South Africa with a serious leak to plug.

Through their disastrous form in the run-up to the main event, the Aussies have shirked the limelight, meaning they won’t play at the World Cup lumped with the lofty expectations of a nation seeking its comeuppance.

Although narratives have so many different iterations, they’re often rather formulaic, and sport, as the grand narrative that mimics life, is no exception.

Whereas South Africa’s current form is set up for a tragic ending, the Aussies’ could end like a fairy tale.

Sure, any supporter or fan feels confident knowing their team is prepared and operating as a well-oiled machine, so to speak, but at the same time, any slightly critical supporter or fan would be concerned that what the Proteas are actually doing is setting the pace – sprinting at the start of a long-distance race.

In filmic terms, when was the last time you saw Ron Jeremy hobbling over to the front end, all hunched and consternated, during the opening credits?

The real question is whether the Proteas have the stamina to take it all the way to the end, having already shown their hand.

There’s no doubt coach Russell Domingo has an ocean of talent to draw from to get the mix right for a theoretically invincible World Cup squad.

So does Australia’s Darren Lehmann. So does Pakistan’s Waqar Younis. So does India’s Duncan Fletcher. And so does Sri Lanka’s Marvan Atapattu.

The point is that in tournaments, it’s not quite theoretical talent that counts, but the ability to cook up tasty wins on the spot, under pressure.

The Pakistan-Australia test series displayed the former’s ability to do just that.

According to Espncricinfo’s Daniel Brettig, leading up to the series Australia spent “six months preparing for mystery off-spin and doosras, even hiring [Sri Lankan spin legend] Muttiah Muralitharan”.

But when the tests came around, the Aussies couldn’t fathom a method to deal with the left-arm orthodox and leg-spin of the relatively unknown pairing of Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah.

We all know what resulted – a classic case of a pre-empted barbie turning into a tandoori takeout.

That series showed perhaps that for purposes of performing well at a World Cup, it’s best to have some surprises in store.

@Longbottom_69 is an armchair cricket critic. After ‘live tweeting’ for the first time on Wednesday, he’s decided to leave it in future to those with nothing better to do at work

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