A pall of gloom descends over cricket

2014-11-29 00:00

AB de Villiers may be forgiven his injudicious remarks about his team’s performance in the losing ODI series in Australia. As captain of the squad he probably feels bound to put a positive spin on anything he says ahead of the looming World Cup. It would be disturbing, however, if he genuinely believes that his team is the best one-day outfit in the world and is the team to beat at next year’s tournament.

This is not to say that his team cannot win the 2015 World Cup. After all the competition boils down to which one of the top eight teams can win three knockout matches in a row. This sounds relatively simple, but the underlying implication of this requirement is that on those three days everything must go right for these Proteas if they are to be the winning team.

Let us start with the captain himself. As things stand, he will have to come off in all three of those matches. Without him, the rest of the batting is simply not good enough to get the job done under the pressure of a World Cup knock-out match. Yet on the recent tour he batted brilliantly to make three scores over 50 and his team lost all three matches against an Australian team that not once fielded its best attack.

It may be wrong to conclude from this that De Villiers actually has to score three big centuries in a row to give his team a chance of ultimate victory, but the point has been illustrated that the pressure on him not to fail at any stage will be almost intolerable.

It is also said of ODI cricket that it is essential that a batsman who gets in must go on to make at least 100. During the recent series, Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock went on to make centuries and yet the Proteas lost both those matches.

It may be argued that when much goes right with the bat as it did in this series and the team still loses, the problems it faces are more serious than when everything goes wrong. The reasoning behind this logic is that if the bit players cannot make telling scores when a good foundation has been laid for them they are unlikely to do so if things go badly upfront.

Rarely can a player’s stature have improved so emphatically by not playing as did that of JP Duminy as he watched this series from the sidelines. Not only is he now expected to provide some balance to a listing outfit, but he also looks to be the saviour of the middle-order batting that just once saw the team to safety and that was an unconvincing effort in the face of a total on the low side of moderate.

Perhaps Duminy was the unspoken thought that inspired De Villiers to speak with such confidence about his team’s prospects but an awful load is about to be thrust onto Duminy’s shoulders. He was missed in Australia, but it is disappointing that none of the other fringe players established himself in the team.

David Miller surely did enough to secure a place on the squad, but he must be regretting that twice he had an opportunity to win a match for his team and failed both times to do so. He bats in that position where World Cup glory is certain to beckon him at least once, but does he have the temperament to answer the call?

If the batting of this Proteas team was ordinary in Australia, the bowling varied from excellent on the one occasion in Perth to simply awful. The bowlers never looked like defending any of the totals that the Aussies were set. The “death” bowling apart from that of Kyle Abbott was poor and even he blotted his copybook under pressure in the close game in Sydney by bowling no balls and leg-side full tosses.

It looked as though Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morné Morkel were conserving their energy for the summer’s more important battles. The selectors must be concerned that neither Wayne Parnell nor Ryan McLaren looked capable of fulfilling the task of a fourth bowler who can make some valuable runs. Either of these two will be fortunate to make the final squad, but who from the domestic game is suggesting himself as a replacement?

Imran Tahir did well-enough apart from dropping an absolute dolly that cost his team the first match in Perth. Alviro Peterson exceeded expectations as he often does and has probably edged ahead of Aaron Phangiso. He certainly adds something to fielding and batting.

The fielding was generally good apart from a couple of dropped catches, but it was disturbing that not once when a run-out chance was presented did the fielder manage to throw down the stumps. These are the kind of dismissals that can turn matches and must be taken in a World Cup. When these chances arise, it is essential that the fielder sets himself and throws in the mode of a top baseballer. Side arm throws à la Miller usually miss the target.

South Africa has yet to win a knockout match in a World Cup and must win three in a row to win the ultimate prize, a task that currently looks beyond them. It all counts for little, however, following the heartbreaking death of Philip Hughes. We have been cruelly reminded that cricket is a dangerous game, particularly at the highest level where bowlers can deliver a ball in excess of 140 km/h. Helmets have saved many batsmen from serious injury, but tragically, in Hughes’s case, the ball struck the unprotected brain stem at the back of his neck. A key artery was damaged and surgery was unable to save one of the game’s outstanding talents.

A pall of gloom has descended over the entire cricket world as it mourns the death of Hughes, a “young man who was killed playing the game that he loved among people who loved him”.

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