Road to ICC World Twenty20 not been smooth for Proteas

2010-05-05 00:00

SOUTH Africa’s 14-run defeat at the hands of India in their opening encounter of the ICC World Twenty20 competition, played at St Lucia, sees them in unfamiliar territory.

We’ve become so accustomed to the Proteas being declared favourites at the beginning of tournaments and to seeing them play just that way.

However, this year’s World Twenty20 has a slightly different feel about it. Graeme Smith was unusually downbeat regarding his team’s preparation for the event — quite different from the confident chat we’re used to hearing from him.

Rustiness was evident in the Proteas’ performance in St Lucia on Sunday, but perhaps getting a loss out of the way at the group stage is the way to go, rather than delaying it till the final stages of the tournament. Sneaking into the Super Eights and peaking for the finals might just be a better approach for the Proteas.

The road to this year’s ICC World Twenty20 has certainly not been a smooth one for our team.

Although vastly experienced, Corrie Van Zyl is new to the national coaching job. Smith’s injured finger continues to be problematic, and neither Boucher nor De Villiers managed to secure a place in their IPL franchise teams.

JP Duminy, Loots Bosman, Albie Morkel and Roelof van der Merwe are all players short on form. These young cricketers, who are no longer strangers to the international arena, should surely be making the most of their chances.

In the wings are some hungry South African A cricketers, currently touring Bangladesh and desperate for an opportunity on the big stage.

Smith and Van Zyl will now be able to see who their real match-winners are.

The “glory boys”, who earn huge amounts of money in the IPL and in county cricket, will now have to prove their ability to scrap and to win tournaments for their country.

On a positive note, Dale Steyn continues to impress with his express pace and skill in leading the SA attack. Rusty Theron is, in my opinion, also a huge asset to the Proteas.

Theron, a player who will give his captain everything each time he walks on to the field, also has the ability to hold his nerve under pressure in the final overs, bowling his signature yorkers and slower balls. In the batting department, Jacques Kallis has shown his class yet again with an impressive vein of Twenty20 form.

Coming from behind to win tournaments is not the way the Proteas like to do things, but with trophies continuing to elude them they’ll take a win however it comes. At the very least, South African fans deserve to see a spirited fight from Smith and his men, who now have to beat surprise qualifiers Afghanistan to move past the group stage.

It should be a formality, but then in Twenty20 cricket stranger things have happened. After losing to India on Sunday, Smith commented: “We know better than anyone that it’s not how you start, but how you finish.” How right he is.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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