Kirsten out with a whimper

2013-06-22 00:00

June 16

AT last, the weather came to South Africa’s rescue in one of these ICC events, albeit at the last possible minute. If the rain had come just one ball earlier, the Proteas would be packing up this morning, prior to catching tonight’s plane home. As it is, they live to fight another day, in a semi-final where their opponents will almost certainly be the host country, England.

The Cardiff match against the Windies was a very difficult one for the South Africans. Losing the toss in a rain-shortened match is like taking the pistol first in a game of Russian roulette in which the revolver has five bullets in its chamber. The odds are not in your favour.

That they won was due to some good batting by Colin Ingram, who is looking more and more like the right man to assume responsibility for opening the innings in both the ODIs and Test matches. He has got a mature head on his shoulders and a good array of shots all around the field.

The Proteas’ score of 230, in just 30 overs, was a good effort on a pitch that offered some assistance to bowlers operating with a dry ball. The problem was that it started drizzling almost as soon as the Windies’ innings began. A wet ball leaves the bowlers at a serious disadvantage. Not only does it make the ball difficult to control, it nullifies the skill of the bowlers. No matter what the bowlers try to do, the ball goes dead straight and skids happily onto the bat. Stroke-making becomes easy.

The bowlers have only length to play with, which Dale Steyn, in particular, did very well. Despite taking wickets fairly regularly, one always had the feeling that the conditions would eventually count against the South Africans … until the rain intervened so decisively after Steyn caught Kieron Pollard at third man.

One feels that if the Proteas are to progress to the final, AB de Villiers will have to make a telling contribution. He is the team’s main match winner with the bat. He cannot afford to give his wicket away with the kind of shots and careless running between the wickets that we have seen from him in this tournament.

It would not be amiss, either, to expect a decent contribution from JP Duminy, who has played as though his position in the team is secure, irrespective of the quality of his performance. He is the main actor now, not a promising bit player, and he must perform accordingly, or make way for someone else.

Off the field, there has been enough to keep the newspapers happy.

David Warner gave further evidence of his rotten form when he could strike only a glancing blow on the chin of England’s boy wonder Joe Root. Warner is in such disarray that I was surprised that England did not appeal against his suspension, which virtually rules him out of the first two Ashes Tests. The bowlers want him in the Aussies team, not that it matters much who the woebegone tourists pick, as none of them looks like a Test batsman.

June 17

England slide through to the semi-finals, despite off-the-field murmurings about ball tampering. Bob Willis, one of the many former captains who now do duty as television pundits, accused one of their players of scratching the ball. His comments were followed by a flurry of denials from the England camp, but the accusation continues to hover like an unwelcome ash cloud.

Justin Rose’s glorious win in the U.S. Open raises hopes of another fabulous summer for British sport. All the talk now is of an Andy Murray win at Wimbledon, victory in the Champions Trophy, success for the British and Irish Lions and a clean sweep in the Ashes. The media do not mention Rose’s South African roots.

June 18

So England will be the Proteas’ opponents at the Oval on Wednesday. At least the weather forecast is for a rare day of summer.

June 19

South Africa start the match with four crushing blows. Steyn fails a fitness test and De Villiers loses the toss on a warm muggy morning, giving swing bowlers their best conditions of the tournament so far. Unsurprisingly, Cook chooses to bowl. These are two ominous developments for the Proteas. Within two overs, both Hashim Amla and Ingram are out. Can the Proteas recover from all these setbacks, which would flatten most teams? A brave innings from Robin Peterson gives some hope that the team can get to a decent score, but the Proteas suffer two more hammer blows when Peterson and De Villiers are dismissed within a few balls. De Villiers talks a great deal about how the choking in big matches belongs to a different era, but his was a poor shot from the captain of a team in deep trouble. There has been little about De Villiers’s captaincy that suggests he is fit for the leadership role.

Duminy came in to play an innings that was bewildering in its incompetence. He was saved from being out first ball by the breadth of a whisker, and then by the failure of the England team to review a clear-cut LBW decision. He then tried to cut a ball that was far too close to him and chopped it onto his stumps. Three for three means you are the weak link JP, goodbye. From then, the batting descended from incompetence to rank thoughtlessness. A succession of dismissals was brought about by atrocious cricket that would have disgraced a competent schoolboy team. The pitch had nothing to do with more than one or two of all the wickets taken by the England team.

David Miller and Rory Kleinveldt batted with some enterprise and intelligence to show what some early patience might have achieved, but it was all too late. Gary Kirsten’s tenure as coach of the South African team ended with a pathetic whimper.

No one would have been more disappointed than Kirsten himself with such a brainless display of batting under circumstances that required determination and intelligence.

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