Cricket World Cup tears flow again for the beloved country

2015-03-28 00:00

BY the narrowest of margins the Proteas finished second in another cracking World Cup semi-final and now watch in anguish as a team they should have beaten go through to Melbourne to contest a final that has yet to entertain South Africa. Four years seems a long time to wait for another crack at the elusive title of world champions.

There was much to admire in the efforts of AB de Villiers and his team to reach the final. They batted well enough to have posted a total beyond the Kiwis’ reach, but rain denied them that opportunity. There is a world of difference between a score of 350 and one of 297 runs. The latter target is attainable when the chase is started off with the kind of manic batting that has made Brendon McCullum such a dangerous player. The larger total permits fewer mistakes than a team such as New Zealand will make.

Over the years the weather has not been kind to the Proteas but, as AB quite rightly acknowledged, his team did not take enough of the many chances offered by New Zealand. In the last 20 overs, five clear run-out chances were offered and none were converted into a dismissal. It is all very well being hyped up on adrenaline, but taking run-outs often requires a split second of calm thinking.

Had Rilee Rossouw paused for a fraction of a second before throwing he would have realised that Anderson could never have beaten a softer throw to De Villiers who was rushing up to the wickets. Instead he went for the glory shot and fired a throw with such force that was too hot for the captain to gather off his boot laces.

The other chances were all hit or miss and were unfortunately missed. The real blunder was the botched catch offered by Grant Elliot as the match approached its excruciating climax. JP Duminy interfered with poor Behardien just as he was about to take the catch. It is imperative that all fielders know where their colleagues are placed and to leave well alone when a catch is hit in their direction.

What we saw from Duminy was an error of schoolboy proportions that will find its sad way into South Africa’s long history of mental blunders in Cricket World Cups.

The most egregious mistake, however, was the one most easily avoided. This was the replacement of Abbott with the hitherto injured and out of form Philander. I feared the worst when I saw that Abbott had been omitted from the team and it took just one over from Philander for these fears to be realised. At a stroke De Villiers was deprived of his most skillful “death” and successful fast bowler in the tournament.

If there is any question that needs to be answered it is who was responsible for this disastrous howler? The delicate silence on this matter of the SuperSport team of experts, who are keen not to suffer the fate of CSA critics like Barry Richards and Dale Cullinan, suggests that this was not purely a cricket issue.

Whatever the reason, an unfit Philander should never have played in this match ahead of a bowler who had become a key member of the attack.

This decision, together with the reliance on Duminy to bowl the bulk of the fifth bowler’s allotment on a tiny ground, gave De Villiers the almost impossible task of managing his bowlers to take wickets and keep the runs down. He did well to take the game to the bitter end, but how he must have regretted the absence of Abbott.

The desire to play seven batsmen and just four bowlers was misplaced and was ultimately one of the causes of the intense disappointment now felt by the Proteas and their supporters. This decision was exacerbated by the failure to recognise that De Kock was technically and temperamentally unsuited to opening the batting against good attacks in the context of this World Cup.

In an unpressured situation against the weakened Sri Lankans, De Kock made some runs, but this innings muddied rather than cleared the waters. The problem was that the unreliability of the opening partnership caused the selectors to baulk at exposing De Villiers to the new ball on the grounds that the team could not afford to lose him early in the innings.

This was also muddled thinking. If South Africa were to win the World Cup it was obvious that AB would have to play a major role. He is South Africa’s best batsman by some distance. By definition he had to have the chance to face more balls than any other batsman. In the fateful semi-final he faced just 46 balls out of 258, that is fewer than 20% of all balls available in that truncated innings. Had he faced even 70 balls his team would have won at a canter.

By saving De Villiers at number five, the Proteas denied him the opportunity to play the match-winning innings of which he alone is capable.

The greatest disappointment, which contributed to the failure of this mission, was the form of Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn. Neither of them came close to playing on a par with their reputations. Amla made runs against Ireland but nothing else and was out to a succession of poor shots. His footwork has been indifferent for some time and it caught up with him at a bad time for his team.

Steyn had a dreadful tournament and his bowling in the semi-final was poor from start to the finish where he was unable to defend 11 runs in the last over. The two new balls may have disturbed his ability to reverse swing the old ball, but it may also be that familiarity with him in the IPL has reduced the respect that batsmen have for his bowling.

Those who enhanced their reputations were Faf du Plessis, David Miller, Imran Tahir, the fatefully neglected Kyle Abbott and the incomparable AB de Villiers. Sadly their efforts were not enough.

The truth is that the ill-balanced Proteas did not look like the best team in this World Cup. They lost all three of their stiffest matches which, eventually, was one too many.

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