Can his team deliver the World Cup glory that AB deserves?

2015-01-31 00:00

THERE was one moment of brainless cricket by the Proteas in their penultimate One-Day International before they fly Down Under in search of the golden fleece that has thus far eluded all their predecessors. It came at the end of the 49th over of their innings. A rampant David Miller had just blasted 14 runs off four balls before taking a single off the fifth ball of the over leaving Wayne Parnell on strike for the last ball of the over.

With several wickets in hand, Parnell’s mandate then was so blindingly clear that it would have been obvious to most under-11 cricketers. He had to try and smash a boundary. If he perished in the attempt it was no matter to the team. What he could not do was to deprive Miller of the strike for the first ball of the last over of the innings. With the mood that Miller was in, having just completed his first hundred for the Proteas, it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that he could hit between 10 and 20 runs in that last over.

Parnell proceeded to do the unthinkable. He eased the ball for a single to the field that had been spread wide enough to accommodate just such a folly. Miller cannot escape blame for the ensuing fiasco because the option of refusing to run was always open to him. The West Indies, at least, knew what was required from Parnell even if the two South Africans were unaware of the importance of ensuring that Miller faced the first ball of the last over.

Parnell compounded the problem when he was bowled first ball of the next over whence the Protea innings descended into farce. Pangiso was then out first ball and Morkel was unable to get the strike to Miller until the last ball of the innings. Frustrated beyond words, Miller then essayed a wild shot and was lucky to get two runs when Holder dropped a difficult catch. Just three runs came from that final over. When one considers the narrow margin of the Windies’ ultimate victory, it is arguable that Parnell’s gormless single cost his team the match.

It beggars belief that the team, who seem to believe that they have a real chance of winning this World Cup, can make such an elementary mental mistake at this stage of their preparations. It brought to mind the irresponsible lack of communication between Lance Klusener and Allan Donald prior to THAT MOMENT at Edgbaston that almost certainly cost South Africa the World Cup in 1999, thus confirming the growing notion that our cricketers were a bunch of chokers. There will be several moments during the forthcoming World Cup when members of this team will be required to think on their feet under much more pressure than anything they have experienced this season. Without mentioning any names, AB de Villiers alluded to the Parnell/Miller incident after the match so let us hope that strong words were said and that the issue was taken on board by the squad. We do not want to witness another thoughtless blunder when the action starts next month.

If it is any consolation, the ­Australians were guilty of similar thoughtlessness in one of the matches against England when Moises ­Henriques contrived to deprive his captain Steve Smith of the strike with just a handful of runs left for victory. He used up 11 balls for just two runs thus reducing a doddle to a nail biter that his team only just won.

What one wants to see in a team is the calmness of purpose that enables the players to think clearly under pressure. In a tournament like the World Cup it is almost certain that each member of the team will be confronted with at least one such situation. Looking round our team, I can see a troubling number of cricketers who have not proven the ability or temperament to succeed in those make-or-break ­moments that decide the destination of a trophy. Of course, AB de Villiers has the talent and form to win the whole damn thing on his own but this is an unlikely outcome given the nature of cricket with its minute margins between success and failure. He has some impressive performers round him but there is a frailty towards the back end of our ­batting and bowling that may be too much for a handful of individuals to overcome even when one of them is as gifted as the captain.

I never thought that I would see any South African batsman to compare with Barry Richards and Graeme ­Pollock but AB is up there with both of them. He is actually a better cricketer than either of them given that he can not only keep wicket to international standard but is also an astonishing fielder in any position.

Not since the days of Garfield Sobers has such a brilliant cricketer adorned the game. Then the great West Indian was forced by the circumstances of the time to play much of his cricket before deserted county grounds. De Villiers has the advantage of performing most of his cricket on the international stage and all of it in front of the television cameras. It would be a shame if one of the game’s cult personalities was not able to lead his country to a major ICC trophy. Last time out in the World Cup, SA’s fate was sealed when AB was stupidly run out by Faf du Plessis. No run is worth the risk of losing De Villiers or any of our top batsmen to a runout.

If the Proteas can avoid silly mistakes there is a good chance that they can survive the perishing knock-out matches to reach the final where the captain’s magic could bring them home. For that to happen the lesser lights in the team will have to play above themselves in all respect of their abilities.

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