No more slip-ups allowed

2015-02-28 00:00

WE had all hoped that the so-called Protea Fire would lift the enveloping gloom of a rainbow nation depressed by its conniving president, breaking democracy and broken generator of power.

What the “fire” produced last Sunday could not have ignited a candle let alone brighten the mood in the homes of 50 million people. World Cups are won by hard-nosed cricketers, not by a fancy notion dreamt up by some half baked advertising executive.

The Proteas’ performance against a moderate Indian team lacked intensity and intelligence. Flattered by a series of matches against poor opponents, fawned over by an uncritical media, guided by a touchy-feely manager without significant playing experience and cosseted by a coterie of expensive advisers, the Proteas played as though they had a divine right to beat the Indians, a team who had been humiliated at nearly every turn during their extended summer Down Under.

The bowlers were mostly awful until they realised that they were looking down the barrel of a score touching 350. By then it was too late to prevent the Indians reaching 300, which is a formidable total to chase in any day-night game. The only early chance, produced ironically by the wayward Parnell, was squandered by Amla who should never be fielding at backward point, the position once owned by the athletic Jonty Rhodes.

The fielding with the stellar exception of the captain was generally sloppy. The batting was woeful. The Indians must have been amazed at the succession of cheap dismissals that were presented to them by the famed top six af-ter which the feeble collapse of the tail surprised nobody. It would be foolish of the Proteas’ management to write the shambles off as a bad day at the office.

To do so would be to ignore the serious problems that threaten to derail the hopes of this team. First up is the batting of Quinton de Kock. On the bouncier pitches of Australia and New Zealand his technique is simply not sound enough to open batting. With a lineup of only six batsmen the team cannot afford one of them to be a walking wicket.

Sadly, there is no alternative other than to ask the captain and best fielder in the team to keep wicket. This would allow Rilee Rossouw to come in first and give the team a better chance of having some decent opening partnerships. Rossouw is something of a front foot batsman but he is powerful enough to find the boundary on any sized ground.

I wrote a few weeks ago that the one thing this team could not afford was any run-outs of its top six batsmen. It is the most stupid and totally avoidable way of losing a top batsman. AB de Villiers, for all his speed between wickets, has now been run out twice in his last four World Cup innings. Amla was all but run out twice in one ball before he presented his wicket to the Indians with an ill-conceived hook off a high bouncer.

Not one of the top six batsmen was dismissed by good bowling. All these precious wickets were gifted to the grateful Indians. It is not good enough in any team but positively suicidal in an outfit where a genuine tail starts as early as number seven in the order.

The defeat against India was foreshadowed by the casual attitude of the Proteas to their warm-up matches. The hiding given to them by the Kiwis was written off as “meaningless”. They scraped home against a poor Sri Lankan side who had been thrashed in their pre-World Cup tour of New Zealand.

It was clear for all to see that the first match against Zimbabwe was a near-run thing despite the poor quality of our neighbours. Whichever way one looks at it, this World Cup campaign has had a disappointing start. It has been every bit as bad as that of 2003 where the team failed to reach the second round of matches despite playing at home.

South Africa’s best players have not excelled themselves in the various World Cups. By and large the heroes, such as they have been, were those who had arrived without big reputations. Jonty Rhodes in 1992 and Lance Klusener in 1999 were the unheralded stars of those tournaments. Hershelle Gibbs had his various moments but none of the many stars consistently imposed themselves on any World Cup tournament which is probably why we have never won a knock-out match.

Never before has our team arrived at a World Cup with weaknesses such as possessed by this lot. In the past we have been blessed with all-rounders who made up for the failures of the better players until the crunch of the knock-out matches. This time messrs Steyn, Morkel, Amla, De Villiers, Duminy, Tahir and Miller cannot fail to deliver as a group. They are our match winners. AB must push whatever buttons are necessary to extract discipline and determination from this elite group. That we either rise or fall is in their hands.

It was thus with relief that we saw a vastly improved performance from the Proteas against the dangerous West Indies buoyed by Gayle’s double century in their previous match. De Kock disappointed again and will only retain his place if it is decided that AB should not keep wicket because Rossouw must stay in the team after his brilliant and important innings.

The batting in this match was ­measured and sensible. There is almost nothing more that can be said about De Villiers himself and it was reassuring to see his senior players showing both determination and form. Although some of the fielding was once again sloppy the team looked alert and up for it in the field.

The team will have been inspired by the brilliance of De Villiers who could have done no more himself to lay to rest the doubts created by India.

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