In & out: The beta men won, then lost, then won again

2014-09-08 11:00

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In his sublimely sardonic Devil’s Dictionary, American satirist and fabulist Ambrose Bierce defines success as “the one unpardonable sin against one’s fellows”.

Perhaps AB de Villiers and his men have become au fait with Bierce’s work of late, what with the long flights to and from Sri Lanka, the lengthy bus ride to Beitbridge, and what I’d imagine to be a tedious and thorough border crossing into Zimbabwe (so many white men, so little time).

Their two matches this week leading up to the final of the triangular series in Harare displayed exactly the extent of their bittersweet relationship with success. When it comes to solidifying that “one unpardonable sin”, the Proteas ODI team seems to shy away.

Perhaps it’s the deeply rooted culture of religiosity in South African sport, and sport in general; or maybe they just lack the killer instinct we saw in Australia’s Big Johnson on Tuesday, when he utterly destroyed two of David Miller’s stumps and in the process pee-peed on the sense of triumphant Schadenfreude we felt after we watched Zimbabwe have their way with his team a couple days earlier (another reason, by the way, Zimbabwe should never be underestimated).

On the plus side, Faf du Plessis, by his own admission, is enjoying a rich vein of form – a “purple patch”, as he described it during the postmatch presentation after he took the man of the match award against Zimbabwe on Thursday for scoring yet another century in the series (by the end of the series yesterday, he scored 464 runs in five matches at an average of 92.8, surpassing the great Sachin Tendulkar’s record for most runs in a five-match triangular series).

South African batsman Faf du Plessis looks up as he is caught for 96 runs during the match against Australia in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Saturday (September 6 2014). Picture: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

Du Plessis has always been considered a rock in our middle order, but only this week did we see just how solid he can be coming in at number three.

But individual performances don’t win matches, let alone get teams to the top of world rankings, as we witnessed on Tuesday against Australia when Du Plessis’ brilliant ton proved to be in vain.

The Aussies had us against the ropes, and before they knew it, the boys in green and gold were back in the locker room scrubbing themselves and sobbing.

Then, in the Proteas’ true nature of being frustratingly consistent in their erraticism, Du Plessis anchored his team’s winning total on Thursday against Zimbabwe to secure his team’s spot in yesterday’s final.

And what a match that was for the bowlers, who finally came to the party. Dale Steyn showed us why he’s still considered by some to be the best fast bowler in the business, cleaning out the Aussies’ middle order to take four wickets for just 34 runs in his 10 overs.

Steyn’s performance set up the Proteas batsmen for an easy stroll to the finish line, beating Australia’s total of 217 with six wickets in hand.

The question now is: where to from here for the Proteas?

In general, barring Du Plessis, their batsmen have been up to no good and the bowling attack has lacked a certain kiss of death at the back end (again yesterday, where good death bowling could have restricted Australia to 170-odd, the Proteas bowlers allowed them to breach the 200 mark).

My prediction is it will be much of the same for the Proteas going into next year’s World Cup: moments of brilliance then disappointment and failure at the worst possible times.

But then again, Bierce also defines the verb ‘predict’ as such: “To relate an event that has not occurred, is not occurring and will not occur.”

Longbottom is an armchair cricket critic. He sometimes pretends to be nice, but he can be mean

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