Proteas have hit their stride!

Pat Symcox (Supplied)
Pat Symcox (Supplied)

The Proteas have now settled into the Cricket World Cup tournament, and looking back at the loss to India when they were like rabbits caught in the headlights, perhaps it was a lesson worth learning.

Since that heavy defeat at the MCG they seem to have galvanised into a highly-motivated team and have tweaked a few aspects of their game which were probably part of Plan A.

Suddenly Dale Steyn appears to have found some rhythm, and when he fires that makes a massive difference. The ‘Phalaborwa Express’ leads the attack as the premier fast bowler in the world, and when the 31-year-old is on song, batsmen don’t take anything for granted.

On the opposite side of the coin, the batting department has come good, and except for Quinton de Kock, now looks settled as a collective. It’s notable that when Faf du Plessis is in form it creates even more stability. It’s patent that that is what AB de Villiers, Rilee Rossouw and David Miller need to have as a platform when approaching the back-end of an innings.

Meanwhile, watching Hashim Amla bat and become the fastest batsman in ODI cricket to 20 centuries, led me to think of a chat I had with him at Kingsmead a few years ago. He was dropped from the one-day team and told that he was just not a one-day player, and that he should rather concentrate on Test cricket. He was bitterly disappointed at the time and we chewed some fat over the issue. To see him prove that theory wrong is so pleasing. What an iconic player and model professional he is. He deserves every accolade that comes his way.

The dilemma concerning the form of De Kock is one that has been around the game forever. As a coach or selector, the question is how long do you wait for a player to come good? Do you keep backing him in the hope things will change or do you move onto someone else?

Well, up until the start of the tournament, he was one the brightest stars and everyone was raving about his ability. All of a sudden, I hear calls to drop him. Cricket is a funny old game.

Sometimes a dropped catch or a decision that goes your way can mean all the difference. My gut feel says keep going with him and trust in his ability. The 22-year-old left-hander is talented and when he is on song, the entire batting line-up suddenly becomes super-potent.

Furthermore, the ramifications of dropping De Kock would see De Villiers take the gloves and that is a really big ask. Captaining the side and batting as he does, is tough enough.

The changes that were made were largely forced on the team through injuries. Vernon Philander and JP Duminy had no option but to sit out. It afforded Rossouw and Kyle Abbott an opportunity. They have both put their hands up and now find themselves in the box seat.

Abbott just looks so comfortable in his work at the moment that despite Philander proving an outstanding bowler, and in Test cricket it’s undisputable, I would not revert to him immediately, and would keep the former in the mix.

The million dollar question to be answered is still out there though. Who fills the No 7 spot going forward? It could easily be solved by shifting young De Kock down the order and slotting Rossouw or Du Plessis into the opener slot alongside Amla. However, I would resist that temptation as I believe it’s now critical not to tamper with what is working.

Duminy displayed good form in the earlier games and with him able to bowl as many overs as what Behardien does, the logical option is to get him back into the team at number seven. He is a far more accomplished batsman with experience to close out a tight game.

Speaking of closing out matches, it’s so interesting to see finishing consultant Mike Hussey doing some work for the Proteas. Times have certainly changed. I just cannot imagine the Australian players of the nineties such as Steve Waugh, Shane Warne and Mark Taylor, signing up post-career to assist South Africa during a World Cup. I would suggest that the IPL has broken down some barriers.

I too was asked to assist a top team at the World Cup and really grappled with the idea. Somehow deep down I’m not sure that I am in a space where I would like to see our Proteas beaten by a team that I had a hand in helping. But then again, if it’s cash you’re after or perhaps desire to get into the coaching mix outside of your country, then it’s an option.

South Africa’s next assignment against Pakistan on Saturday is another important hurdle to overcome. Playing Pakistan has its own set of challenges, because you never know which team is going to pitch up on the day. They so often self-destruct under pressure, but every now and then produce periods of brilliance and can beat anyone.

I believe the key is to do the basics right against them. You must also make sure that there is a relentless pressurized environment in every facet of play right from the start and keep it that way until the final ball.

Former South Africa international Pat Symcox played at the 1996 Cricket World Cup, and is a self-proclaimed cricket fanatic, struggling golfer and addicted writer.

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