Sooner or later the Proteas will realise it is not a question of avoiding defeat but pursuing victory

2011-04-02 00:00

SOUTH Africa has been called chokers and this tag will remain intact until they don’t.

Sooner or later the Proteas will realise that is not a question of avoiding defeat but pursuing victory. Defeat is not so bad. The world keeps spinning. Pakistan lost on Wednesday night, but the tuc-tuc drivers were out in force next morning.

Rather the team need to seek the joy of winning and seek it with the enthusiasm observed in students upon spotting free beer.

Admittedly the difference might appear small, but it’s crucial. Success is supposed to be a challenge — not an ordeal. Strong teams relish the contest as well as the result.

Other sides feel the pressure, but they take it in their stride. The Proteas start sweating.

However it’s a mistake to focus entirely on the team’s failings in knock-out stages. It’s not right always to look at the psychological aspect. South Africa chose the wrong line-up.

Critics have been talking about the omission from the original squad of Mark Boucher and Albie Morkel. I’m not so sure that is the issue. Morkel’s bowling is mundane and his batting is sporadic. Boucher has been a wonderful servant but all good things come to an end

Certainly these points can be debated and different opinions held. But South Africa did not make the most of the resources at its disposal on the subcontinent.

Somehow a side containing the world’s leading all rounder, and one of the best the game has known, and also featuring a keeper/batsman to put beside Kumar Sangakkara, ended up with a batting order as short as one of Twiggy’s mini-skirts.

The sight of Johan Botha walking to the crease with five wickets down informed spectators that the match was as good as over. This tail was not going to wag. Anyhow it was not the tail — it was supposed to be the lower middle order.

Botha and Robin Peterson might smack a few runs now and then but they are not genuine batsmen. With half their wickets still to fall the Proteas were coughing.

Everyone talks about playing five bowlers and backing the top six batsmen, but hardly anyone actually does it. Except, that is, the Proteas, a side better placed than most to field a powerful batting order.

Take the teams playing in today’s final. Yuvraj Singh is India’s fifth bowler, a role that allows the hosts to play Suresh Raina at seven.

Tillakaratne Dilshan delivers off-breaks for the Lankans, thereby lengthening their order.

New Zealand and Pakistan, the beaten semi-finalists, also play plenty of batsmen. Indeed the Kiwis batted a long way down the list and failed only because they made a hash of their powerplay.

Otherwise their strategy might have taken them to Mumbai.

It’s all very well saying that the top six ought to score the runs but that overlooks the human aspect.

Batsmen aware that the list is short tend to fret. Opponents know that a couple of wickets will bring them back into the contest. And fifty overs cricket requires that risks be taken — indeed embraced.

Over the years South Africa’s strength has been that it bats a long way down, with fellows Like Shaun Pollock and Pat Symcox appearing at eighth and ninth. Of course that position cannot be plucked from the wind. It’s no use picking inadequate players because they fit the pattern.

But the Proteas went too far in the other direction, listened too much to the fashionable calls to attack at all costs, mostly by choosing five specialist bowlers and pressing for wickets.

By doing so they left themselves exposed and underused a flinger with 300 Test wickets to his name. And they did it despite the poor form shown by Graeme Smith and JP Duminy. Accordingly it only took the freakish dismissal in the first over of Hashim Amla, their calmest batsman, to furrow the brow. South Africa could have left out a bowler, Morné Morkel, Botha or Peterson — depending on form and pitch, and fielded Morné Van Wyk at first wicket down instead. Captain, coach and selectors are accountable for the strategy, and for the curious inclusion of Colin Ingram in the squad.

Leaving out seasoned campaigners is acceptable, provided better replacements have been found.

Alas the Proteas were eliminated from the semi-finals, bringing Smith’s incumbency to a disappointing end. Botha takes his place. But a bigger question needs to be addressed.

Is it not time to find a new captain capable of leading both teams? Every leader (including African despots) has a sell-by date. A strong case can be made for appointing a new leader, Amla or AB De Villiers. And the argument has merit.

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