In & Out: Taking a crack at the back door

2015-02-22 15:00

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Late last month, as the West Indies’ tour of South Africa was wrapping up, I recall having a conversation with a close ally.

It centred on how a rock-hard South African top order in that tour would naturally go soft during the World Cup, as witnessed in their opening group match against Zimbabwe a week ago.

As you might recall, Hashim Amla ended up top-scoring in the ODI series, collecting 413 runs in just four of the five matches, at an average of more than 200; while perennial overachiever AB de Villiers scored 249, also in four of the five matches, at an average of 83.

Prior to the start of this morning’s match against India, these two world-class top-order batsmen had a total of 36 runs between them after one match in the World Cup.

If that doesn’t signify the beginning of flaccidity, I’m not sure what does.

In relation to his country’s precarious economic position a few years ago, Zimbabwe’s seemingly virile president, Robert Mugabe, was quoted as saying that “some people are contriving ways and means of making us collapse”.

But the opposite was true last Sunday, when our northern neighbours were the ones doing the contriving, as the South African choke was well and truly on.

The Proteas were teetering on the brink at 83/4, and if it hadn’t been for David Miller and JP Duminy’s BMT (that’s big match temperament to the uninitiated) to save South Africa’s bacon, chances are the Proteas would have made a real meal out of their opening match.

Ireland’s four-wicket victory over the West Indies in those teams’ opening game last week also puts South Africa’s impressive series win last month into perspective.

Some might chalk causing the tournament’s first “upset” down to Irish luck, but anyone watching the game would have seen it was the islanders’ lacklustre showing that opened the back door to let the associate nation in.

By the time you read this, the match against India will likely be in its dying throes, but that subcontinental powerhouse is unlikely to ever leave their back door ajar – not even a crack – in defending the championship.

Going into the competition as second-favourites behind Australia, the Indians are going to be the Proteas’ first real test since November when Australia last tested the South Africans and found them severely wanting.

Going with the worst-case scenario (that South Africa loses to India this morning) they’ll have something of a mountain to climb to advance to the knockout stages.

First, they’ll have to get past a West Indies team wanting to regain some pride after being roughhoused by the Irish. Then they’ll have to deal with a cock-a-hoop Irish team eager to build on their momentum.

And they still have to face Pakistan, who historically have a knack for turning up at big tournaments, proving time and again the kind of back door raiders they can be, especially if Shahid “Boom Boom” Afridi drops his keys in the bowl.

In the best-case scenario, even if they manage to get past India, the long and short of it is they still need to face up to three very eligible back door suitors.

Let’s hope that by the time you see this, dear reader (if indeed you’re a Proteas fan, of course), the worst-case scenario isn’t a reality.

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