The moment of truth has arrived for the Proteas

2015-03-14 00:00

CONTRARY to the expectations created by their underwhelming performances earlier this summer, all four sub-continental cricket teams have sailed into the quarter-finals of the World Cup.

By far the most impressive of these teams has been India who scarcely raised a sweat in disposing of all the sides in its pool including the strangely out-of-sorts Proteas. India played so poorly in the triangular series involving Australia and England prior to the World Cup that they looked anything but the defending champions who now have a real chance of retaining their title.

Managed by the shrewd old “Silver Fox” Duncan Fletcher, the Indians have played with a calm intelligence that has thus far eluded the Proteas. The surprise has been the energetic displays of their three fast bowlers which allied to the spin of Ashwin and Jadeja has given India one of the most balanced attacks in the competition. On top of this has been the assured batting of its top order on the flat pitches of Australia.

Pakistan have not always looked convincing and look likely to succumb in the quarter finals against one of the host nations. The Sri Lanka must be confident of sending their presumed quarter final opponents, the South Africans, home if they bat first and set the formidable target their quality in-form batsmen are capable of producing against any attack.

The English were woeful, much to the delight of the exiled Kevin Pietersen who will have further alienated himself with a series of gleeful tweets. His so-called mate Eion Morgan proved to be a disaster both as captain and middle order batsman. Grim faced and joyless throughout their disastrous campaign, he was unable to inspire his team-mates to raise themselves above a defensive mindset that is now inappropriate in the context of modern international ODI matches. Furthermore it cannot have impressed either his team-mates or his masters that the Dublin-born captain resolutely refused to sing the national anthem prior to each match.

One hesitates to compare the dismal efforts of England and South Africa in the preliminary rounds but the essential difference between the two is that England had the more difficult matches against the weaker Test playing countries in their pool.

Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are a different proposition to the Windies and Zimbabwe. SA failed twice against the only decent opposition in their pool.

For a team who arrived Down Under as one of those fancied to win the whole darn thing, the Proteas have thus far successfully concealed their class.

Like some champion athletes they have just done enough to get through to the next round, but one worries that there is not much more to come from this unsettled, nervy team.

Alone among the remaining contenders, the Proteas still do not know which is their best team. Quite clearly they cannot continue with De Kock at the front of the batting order.

For my money I would not have him in the team. If this means that De Villiers is not available to bowl his long hops then that is a sacrifice that I would be prepared to make.

Too much seems dependent on whether Philander is going to be fit enough to make a proper contribution to the team’s efforts. It looks to me that the team have paid too high a price by relying on players whose fitness was in doubt prior to the World Cup. One can understand the selectors’ desire to give Duminy every opportunity to play but to have done so with both De Kock and Philander now looks to have been a crippling mistake.

When the all but discarded Parnell and Phangiso are added to the list of players whose presence in Australia is questionable, it may be pertinent to ask just how much Cricket South Africa’s policy directive in terms of demographic selections has compromised this team’s chances. One hopes that after the defeat against Pakistan, Russell Domingo took the batsmen (De Villiers excepted) aside and told them that their batting in that match was not worthy of their reputations. They let themselves, their captain and their country down with a display of thoughtless batting.

Once Du Plessis and Amla had raced to 67 in eight overs, the game was as good as won. All they had to do was play circumspectly, preserve their wickets and score at four runs an over. The Pakistan storm would soon have blown itself out. The Proteas would have strolled to victory.

Even when those two were caught fiddling outside the off stump, it just needed Rossouw or Duminy to show some bloody-minded determination to stick with De Villiers.

Both were out-playing at bouncers that they could easily have left alone. Not for the first time Duminy gave his wicket away in a crisis in this World Cup, thus adding to his similar failures in other ICC events. All four of these batsmen surrendered their wickets to the grateful Pakistanis whereupon the tail illustrated yet again that they do not have the competence to stick around with an established batsman. The batsmen have one more chance to redeem their sorry asses, failing which the South Africans will fall again at their first brush with a knock out opponent. The only Proteas on fire this last fortnight have been burning on the Cape Peninsula.

The two host countries still remain the favourites to contest the final. Both teams play unfettered, aggressive cricket from ball one. There is always a chance that such cricket can come undone very quickly as we saw in the remarkable low scoring pool match between the two. A more sober attitude from either of them would almost certainly have produced a different result but we would then have been denied the most compelling match thus far in the 2015 World Cup.

First prize, at this stage, is for SA to reach the finals. For that to happen, however, senior players need to show a hitherto undisclosed determination to deliver the goods for their captain.

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