Immature batting display

2013-06-08 00:00

I KNOW that form in warm-up matches should be no guide, but one has to say that without Kallis and Smith in the game against Pakistan, the Proteas looked naked and vulnerable. The batting at the front of the order was not even immature; it was juvenile.

The received wisdom is that the new changes to the ODI rules have made this format of the game a charter for batsmen to gorge themselves on defenceless attacks. This may be the case when a batsman gets well set, but the trick is to do just that.

No batsman can walk to the crease and expect to dominate the bowling no matter how good the pitch. The first lesson for all batsmen is to respect the opposing bowlers and earn the right to play with freedom.

The early South African batsmen in the match against Pakistan indicated a lack of understanding in the art of constructing a match-winning innings.

It may have been a match without meaning, but another truism of any sport is that one should practise with the same discipline and intensity with which one intends to play. It is given to very few to be able to get away with any other approach.

Roger Federer sometimes warms up in a frivolous mood and Graeme Pollock was another genius whose practice habits defied conventional wisdom. These guys belong in the top category of supremely gifted sportsmen who are able to do things their way.

Yet Federer puts in hours of hard work away from public view and in his case a warm-up is often just that. Pollock liked to bat for a short time in the nets where he just wanted the bowlers to send him down a succession of long hops and half volleys.

His reasoning was simple. He figured that he would only get five bad balls an hour and that batting was just a matter of waiting for the bad ball and making sure he could hit it for four. These 20 runs, added to a couple of singles and twos, would see him cruising along at 25 runs an hour at the front end of an innings. In his opinion, too many batsmen get themselves out trying to score runs off good balls.

Against Pakistan, our batsmen played a series of extravagant strokes against some excellent bowling and without exception paid the price. The result is that none of them played an innings that would have given them some confidence ahead of the match against India.

Let us go back for a moment to the new rules of one-day cricket. The essential change is that bowlers may only deploy four fielders outside the inner circle. This means that two sections of the boundary are always unguarded. This is not particularly relevant to a new batsman at the crease. His initial objective should be survival until he becomes accustomed to the bowlers and pace of the pitch.

Once in, however, a batsman can cash in on a good pitch against bowlers who have to defend acres of empty field. In the New Zealand match against England at the Rose Bowl we saw a perfect example of how two well-set batsmen, Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum, were able to slaughter a reasonable attack. In the last 12 overs of the innings they scored 152 runs. What this means is that by batting carefully for 38 overs, during which time the Kiwis lost just two wickets while scoring at under six runs an over, they set themselves up for an end-of-innings blitzkrieg.

By contrast, our callow youths launched an immediate assault against the Pakistani bowlers, resulting in more than half the side being out for fewer than 50 runs.

After that display my early optimism about our chances had waned, and my fears were confirmed on Thursday.

As one feared, the batsmen did not learn enough from their two warm-up matches to enable them to deliver the goods against India.

Let it be said that the bowlers did not make their task easy, but it looked as though too many of the batsmen panicked under the pressure of the scoreboard.

Under Gary Kirsten, the Proteas have lost far too many crucial wickets through run-outs, particularly of top-order batsmen. I do not know if this has been recognised as a problem within the team, but it certainly should be.

Without the run-outs of Robin Peterson and David Miller, as well as the suicidal shots played by AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, the South Africans should have been able to chase down the Indian total under perfect batting conditions. It was an immature batting performance that has now made the winning of this tournament highly unlikely.

The bowling, frankly, was poor and the overall impression of the Proteas was of a team caught unawares by the intensity of the Indians. It looks to me that the team are suffering from a toxic mixture of poor leadership, weary and injured senior players and inexperienced youngsters.

I cannot understand the omission from the squad of Vernon Philander. Once Morné Morkel was injured, only Robin Peterson from the Test attack was on the field. There was little quality in the bowling apart from Ryan McLaren, who had an excellent game with both bat and ball.

Watching this team perform in their last two matches, it is difficult to believe that many of us felt they had a decent chance to win this Champions Trophy. Unless there is a dramatic improvement from the captain down, this team will not even get themselves into a position where they can choke.

Next week I write from England.

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