Call it what you will, this was the biggest of all the Proteas’ chokes

2012-10-06 00:00

WHEN a team are ranked number one in the world and fail to reach the knock-out stages of a tournament, it is a reasonable assumption that they under delivered. Except that the Proteas T20 squad under the captaincy if AB de Villiers, in his own words, “did not choke. We were beaten by better teams.”

If this is the official message coming from the team in an effort to dispel the notion that the South Africans are a bunch of underperformers in World Cup events, then who are the rest of us to cock a cynical eyebrow?

One can understand the desire to avoid the choker label, but unfortunately the facts from the Sri Lankan debacle speak for themselves.

This was probably the biggest choke of the whole lot and the sooner the squad faces this unpalatable truth, the sooner they might remedy what has become a chronic condition of South African cricket.

There are other reasons for the poor performance in Sri Lanka, but these cannot disguise the fact that the Proteas contrived to lose the match against Pakistan when it was all but won. With just three wickets left, Pakistan had to get 60 runs in four overs. That is not a winning position even in the frantic chase of a T20 match.

At his disposal, AB de Villiers had five overs of the most economical bowlers on the day. He chose to ignore the evidence before him and entrusted one of those overs to Albie Morkel, who has little control at the best of times, and another to his brother, who still lacks the necessary discipline and skill to deliver under fire.

The result was that Umar Gul was fed a diet of short-pitched rubbish that he sent into orbit and in no time, Pakistan were right back into a game that they and every­one else thought was lost.

The available spin of Botha and Duminy was ignored despite the fact that it was their bowling together with that of Peterson that had been responsible for the team’s seemingly unassailable position. Under pressure, De Villiers chose the Proteas’ default option of pace with disastrous consequences. Whatever the captain chooses to call that decision, it can never be anything but a choke by another name.

Even in the meaningless throes of the last match against India, the Proteas contrived to lose, by just one run, a match that was there for the taking. By then the boys were bottling it under scant pressure.

Disturbingly, there are more fundamental reasons for the disappointing performances in Sri Lanka. The first is that the batting did not fire. As good as he is in the longer games, Amla may not be suitable for the hurly burly of T20 cricket.His great strength is his ability to concentrate for extended periods and to play each ball on its merit. This does not serve him well in the shortest form of the game, where his weakness as a fielder has also been exposed.

I thought that Kallis began to show his age during this tournament. He has played an awful lot of cricket this year and gave his all in the battles against England, but for once he did not seem up for the challenge.

Life without Kallis looms for the Proteas and perhaps it would be wise not to waste his declining energy in the least important form of the game.

The biggest problem was the batting of AB de Villiers. This young man needs to take a long hard look at his performances since he started keeping wicket and captaining the one-day teams. During the entire northern summer he made just one score over 50 in any of the Test or international matches. This is a poor return for one who has the ambition to be the best batsman in the world.

It was predictable that his batting would decline once he began keeping wicket. South Africa cannot afford such a loss of form from one of its key batsmen. The team just got away with it in England, thanks to Amla, but AB needs to fire with the bat in Australia, where he must not be encumbered with the gloves.

Not all his poor form, however, can be ascribed to keeping wicket. A number of technical weaknesses have crept into his batting. His footwork has become sluggish, with the result that he has been caught on the crease by the better bowlers. He has a lot of hard work ahead of him before the Australian tour.

I thought his captaincy varied from naïve to poor. At times he looked completely lost when the play did not go to plan. His decision to bat at number six against Pakistan could not be justified. He clearly has much to learn about captaincy. The last place an apprentice captain should be is behind the stumps. How often must this be said?

As predicted, poor Richard Levi had a disastrous trip. Top teams quickly discerned his weaknesses, of which there are many, and rather meanly declined to feed his strengths. This is what happens at the highest level and the time has come to think again about the kind of batsmen that should be opening in T20 cricket.

In fact, the batting unit as a whole needs re-thinking. The more successful batsmen in T20 cricket have a range of strokes that can deal with the wider variety of deliveries that bowlers have developed. The crude wipers across the line have outlived their usefulness.

Each team needs a couple of strong batsmen who can belt the ball as well as accumulate runs off good deliveries. South African cricket is woefully short of such players.

The bowling was mostly good enough to be competitive, although the Aussies had few problems with the Proteas attack. One had the impression, however, that our bowlers were some way behind the others in terms of the variety of deliveries they can offer.

In summary, the T20 Proteas were deficient in too many departments to have been successful. And they still choked.

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