In the wake of the Caribbean fiasco, SA cricket must go back to the drawing board

2010-05-22 00:00

THE World Twenty20 proved to be yet another International Cricket Council world event that ended in dismal failure for the Proteas. So will we see the national side prove successful in an international event anytime soon?

As has been the case with all the past disappointments in similar events, there is again much frustration and even anger among fans at the team’s inability to turn their lofty world ranking into a viable tournament challenge.

As expected, the allegations regarding “choking” have resurfaced and seem to have taken firm hold, despite the denials from management.

I believe that the first requirement of “choking” is that the team are playing at the top of their powers in the beginning. That certainly wasn’t the case in this tournament.

The Proteas were soundly beaten by India in the opening match where the final margin of victory flattered the South Africans. They were ordinary against the minnows, Afghanistan, where the gulf between the top teams and second rung of competitors was cruelly exposed in the area where there is always a big gap — the ability to handle genuinely fast bowling.

In the Super Eights, New Zealand were disposed of fairly easily, but only after Albie Morkel had played a very special innings, including five sixes off the 18 balls he faced.

The second match against England should have sent massive warning signals through the South African ranks as the team were humiliated by the Poms by 39 runs.

A loss by 39 runs in a Twenty20 match is like losing by 100 runs in a 50-over match, which is as comprehensive a defeat as you can suffer.

More worryingly, only one batsman batted at a strike rate in excess of 100, the minimum in this format of the game.

And finally, after a promising start in the field against Pakistan, the run chase never gained any momentum and another embarrassingly early departure resulted.

So what went wrong?

Of course, in the aftermath of the event, plenty of experts are calling for all the experienced players to be dropped, and they all may have a point.

However, it is worth considering the most recent series of Twenty20 cricket played by South Africa before this series.

In the past two seasons, the team has played England and Australia (two of the World Twenty20 semi-finalists) in two-match series.

The England series was shared 1-1 with SA losing one match by one run on the Duckworth/Lewis system and winning the other by 84 runs.

The Australia series was won 2-0 by the South Africans and, guess what, the players representing SA in those games were virtually the same players in the West Indies now, with the standout players being Graeme Smith, Loots Bosman, Mark Boucher, Albie Morkel and Ryan McClaren. Other than McClaren, the rest of the players from those series are still in the team. So what happened in the interim?

Much of the success of the South African cricket team since isolation has been due to hard work, determination and preparation. We have not always been blessed with the world’s most talented players, but have always prepared expertly and never left anything to chance in planning and doing the necessary homework on the opposition.

Furthermore, the standard of fielding of the team was testament to the amount and standard of the preparation that the team put in.

Finally, this preparation allowed the team management to catch up with any new trends in the game and the innovations that players and teams were using, and allowed them to perfect the necessary response.

With most of the players involved playing (or in most cases, not) in the IPL, some players injured and the rest inactive, the team arrived in the Caribbean from different places, had a day or two to prepare, play two warm-ups and were thrust into the heat of battle.

There is no doubt that they weren’t prepared, individually or collectively. The skills were not up to the required standard, they were short of match hardness and confidence, and most tellingly, many other teams in the world had moved past them from an innovation and strategy point of view.

The result was inevitable.

South African cricket will have to go back to the drawing board and redesign a strategy for the Twenty20 format, and that may require a change in personnel. Whether you like it or not, Twenty20 is here to stay and will form an integral part of international cricket going forward — it’s time for South Africa to catch up.

 

Craig Matthews played 18 Tests and 56 one-day internationals as a seam bowler for South Africa between 1991 and 1997, and until recently served as a national selector.

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