A good T20 for the Proteas but no cigar, again

2014-04-12 00:00

ANOTHER ICC tournament has delivered another South African failure. To be fair to this latest team I do not think many people thought that they had the ammunition to win a T20 World Cup with a bowling attack that was three class bowlers short of being able to give the captain a full hand. Apart from a dreadful effort against the Dutchmen, the batsmen did well enough without dispelling an observation of two decades that South Africa’s top batsmen have been unable to produce their best form on the big occasions.

There is too much talk in this country that AB de Villiers is the best batsman in the world in all forms of the game. This may be more a comment on the recent exodus from cricket of batting giants than on the outrageous gifts of AB but, if he is the best, De Villiers has yet to deliver one of the big prizes for his country.

He batted five times in Bangladesh where he produced just one match-winning performance. This is a poor return compared with that of Virat Kohli who played a telling innings in every one of India’s six matches including the final in which he played a lone hand in a losing team. Kohli is several years younger than De Villers, who should be at the peak of his powers, but the Indian is now the most feared batsman in world cricket.

It does not help AB that the Proteas management does not seem to be able to make up their collective mind how best to use his considerable talents. In this summer’s Test matches the problem of his wicket keeping understandably affecting his position in the batting order exists, but no such excuses can be made for the bizarre notion that in T20 cricket he should come in to bat when more than half the innings is over.

In his book Moneyball, Michael Lewis tells the story of a baseball manager of the Oakland Athletics who made much of certain statistics that were ignored by most commentators and observers of the game. By doing so he was able to assemble a low-budget team who were able to compete with the multi-million wage bills of the better known teams from the bigger cities.

The book is a splendid read that was translated into a compelling movie but one of its unfortunate consequences is that it spawned a culture of sports management that places too much reliance on the value of statistics. There is an attribute called common sense that rarely fails to trump any decision based on statistics.

South African cricket had an earlier statistical-based disaster this season when someone persuaded Graeme Smith to bowl after winning the toss at Supersport Park when the blazing sun above cried out for a decision to bat. It is arguable that that single decision cost South Africa the series and hastened the retirement of the country’s most successful captain when he clearly has a few years left in the tank.

Now we have had another peculiar idea that AB has been at his best in T20 cricket when he comes into bat after the 10th over. That may be so but is most probably due to the fact that too often in this form of the game he has come in when the batsmen above him have made such a hash of things that he has been compelled to chase the game too soon.

Kohli is India’s best batsman and he bats at number three thus giving him enough time to settle in and then dominate the innings. This is an age-old strategy that has stood the test of time. It is known as experience.

AB, however, must share some of the responsibility for his less than stellar efforts in Bangladesh. Twice he was out in the same manner when he tried to hit a long hop into orbit instead of settling for an ordinary boundary four. Great batsmen rarely make such elementary mistakes and certainly not twice in the space of a few innings.

The ODI World Cup takes place next year. It is important that AB’s role in that ICC tournament gives him his best chance to win one of these pesky trophies for his country.

It was also strange that Dale Steyn was not used in an attacking vein in the lost semi-final against India. We had made a more than reasonable score and the situation demanded that Steyn open the bowling in the search of the early wicket that would put the Indians under pressure. Instead, JP Duminy opened the bowling with his innocuous off spinners against the best players of spin bowling in the world. He got clobbered for 14 runs in the first over. The momentum of the game, that had been with the Proteas, was lost and never recovered.

There have been too many such mistakes under the brief regime of Russell Domingo. I cannot believe that Morné Morkel was worth just one match in Bangladesh. The pitch in the final had plenty of pace in it and the Indians do not play the bouncing ball well but he was still left out of the team in favour of the inexperienced Hendricks. This was a defensive selection. As Shane Warne constantly tells us it is better by far in cricket to have an attacking mindset.

If Domingo wants to succeed, he must put aside his statistical bent and concentrate on producing a Proteas team who play sound attacking cricket based on tried and tested fundamentals. It is unfortunate for him that he has taken over during a period of transition but he should regard this time as an opportunity to find a new generation of players that have a freedom of expression and are unafraid of the big stage.

Whilst still on a cynical statistical bent and with the Masters upon us once again, Matt Kuchar’s performances this year make a mockery of paying too much attention to stats.

Kuchar is one of the favourites for the Masters but in every one of the top eight category of statistics that golfers use to measure where their games are in comparison with their rivals, he is ranked much lower than 50th for the season. When it comes to actually scoring, however, he is ranked 17th — a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. This so-called anomaly is due to the nous with which he negotiates his way round the course. He knows how to fashion a round of golf. Mr Domingo, please note.

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