Proteas must be ready for slow-spinning muggers at T20 world Cup

2012-06-29 00:00

THE recent unofficial Tri-Series in Zimbabwe highlighted some serious flaws ahead of the T20 showpiece in Sri Lanka later this year.

Is it time to get worried? I think so, but it is also a case of an important lesson learnt in a format where surprises are aplenty. Although the Proteas won the four nations Mandela Cup in 1994 thanks to some dodgy decisions by Salim Malik, the odd Triangular series win and their lone ICC triumph in the 1998 Champions Trophy, the gods have not smiled on them in international tournaments.

If it has not been ludicrous rain rules, it has been full-on chokes, Duckworth/Lewis and poor performances which have scuppered South Africa’s progress at showpieces.

The Proteas are the equivalent of England football when it comes to cricket. They just can’t handle the white-hot pressure of knockout matches. It is not because they haven’t had the players — the country has produced some talented cricketers — rather it is because of a conservative, safety-first approach that shackles players when innovativeness and out-of-the box thinking are needed to get themselves out of tough corners.

The Proteas’ defeats to Zimbabwe and Bangladesh in the T20 Tri-Series in Harare last week caught South African cricket on the hop. The outcomes even caught high-performance manager Vincent Barnes by surprise. He lamented the underperformance of some of the players who are on the fringes of national selection.

Left-arm steamers Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Wayne Parnell were a particular concern, with the latter’s form deteriorating year by year. It may be in the shortest format, but it is expected of a South African side to rock up at tournaments and dispatch Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. However, when a sport is played on a mixture of a clay and grass surface that is often at the mercy of the elements, nothing can be taken for granted.

Muggings are part and parcel of 20-over cricket, a format blessed with the ability to give minnows a fighting chance to ambush unsuspecting heavyweights.

On the unusually slow wickets they strangled the life out of the South African batsmen, who are more used to the ball coming on rather than having to force the pace on to the delivery.

The likes of Hashim Amla, Richard Levi, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien fired in patches rather than putting up a co-ordinated performance. They are all talented prospects who have proved themselves at domestic level and they had to be given a run.

One teething problem that does not want to seem to go away is Albie Morkel, who just cannot seem to translate his domestic boundary clearing on to the domestic stage.

Teams have worked out his shortcomings against spin and while he may be successful at lower levels, his gulf in his domestic and international performances are widening with every passing season.

However, the failed trial by spin was the necessary tonic Gary Kirsten needed for when the T20 World Cup swings by.

The Sri Lankan pitches will have gone through their seasonal changes and they could be at their slowest, even though conditions could vary from ground to ground.

Teams will pack armies of spinners varying from the orthodox to the mysterious. Graeme Cremer and Abdul Razzak showed up South African deficiencies against spin. The side may have lacked AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis, excellent players of spin, but the soft underbelly that is the middle order will be targeted.

England will not be the best place to prepare, so the Zimbabwean sojourn may not have been as bad as one has thought, but it has left plenty of head scratching.

The lessons have to be learnt and applied, otherwise South Africa will remain the laughing — or choking — stock of world cricket.

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