Cape Town – If they didn’t already, the whole cricketing world knows now … the Proteas’ present seam attack in Twenty20 combat is more vulnerable than most major-league counterparts to mass leakage.
That may sound an overly cruel pronouncement, when you consider some of the historically proven and seriously talented individual names within their midst.
But a mushrooming array of recent statistics don’t lie, either: there were some wince-worthy new landmarks from the fast men as South Africa opened their ICC World Twenty20 account in Mumbai on Friday with a debilitating two-wicket loss to England in what can only be described as an unrelenting sugar-rush game.
The Proteas appeared to be sitting pretty at the midway point at the Wankhede Stadium, having plundered a majestic 229 for four – about as good as it gets, you would think, in a strength-versus-strength type of encounter.
England, however, were not going to be cowed as they chomped their change-over power snacks, and came out guns blazing like never before.
It was “game on” after only two overs, as they brutalised Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn to the tune of 44 runs (a global T20 record in itself, apparently) between them, creating an unease in the minds of Faf du Plessis’s troops that never dissipated in a meaningful way for the remainder of the tussle.
You have to give massive credit to the victorious side … it took serious courage and composure to hunt down the juggernaut requirement, with Joe Root quite magnificently to the fore.
The pitch was a belter and yes, the Proteas were affected by the ever-creeping onset of nocturnal dew at the ground.
Yet that is part of the fabric in floodlit scraps in many parts of the planet, and it is not as though the SA bowlers lack experience in their arsenal to negate its hazards.
What is worrying is that a pattern is developing of the country struggling to defend even genuinely formidable totals posted by their batting line-up.
Proteas enthusiasts will be hoping like heck that the men in green get at least some opportunities to bat second in the remainder of their group roster – against respectively Afghanistan (next, on Sunday at 11:30 our time), West Indies and Sri Lanka.
It is fairly likely that South Africa will have to win all three fixtures from here to advance, and as their former coach Eric Simons pointed out in the SuperSport studio: “It’s going to be a tough psychological time now for the bowlers, in particular, and the team.”
After all, if you can score at a smoking 11.45 runs to the over yourselves and still play second fiddle, when are you ever really going to feel confident you have notched enough runs against credible opponents to be safe?
With this reverse, the Proteas have become the hapless receiving-enders of the top two -- and three of the top six – matches sporting the biggest successful run chases in T20 internationals.
All of the trio of specific defeats mentioned have come in the space of not much more than a year (they could not defend 231 against West Indies at the Wanderers in mid-January 2015) and two in the last 12 days when you include the clear-in-memory failure to protect 205 against Australia at the same venue.
You can’t point fingers exclusively at the SA seamers for this unwanted habit … although they must take the overwhelming majority of the rap, frankly, for the latest sickener.
On the night, spinners Imran Tahir (he did not concede a single boundary in his four overs) and previously iffy part-timer JP Duminy were more than respectable given the circumstances.
But between Rabada, Steyn, Chris Morris and Kyle Abbott, albeit that the last-named player was less culpable than the others, a combined 12.4 overs haemorrhaged all of 165 runs.
In all international limited-overs combat by South Africa since 1991, I am not sure any humiliation for a pace brigade has ever matched this one from a purely statistical point of view.
That quartet also had to cop the lion’s share of the blame for disgraceful – I know that’s a strong word, but this does seem a time and place – concession of 26 runs in extras, the third highest in a T20 international innings and a pivotal hallmark in explaining this loss.
England’s extras charity, by stark contrast, was a miserly four runs (two byes, two wides) so the difference was 22 runs in that area; clearly so influential in a game eventually decided with just two balls to spare.
Since genial Charl Langeveldt took over as the assistant coach specialising in South Africa’s fast-bowling department, it has become more and more apparent, regrettably, that their main consistency across the three formats of the game has been inconsistency, despite ongoing sublime moments and occasional stellar analyses by specific players.
Then again, a coach is pretty powerless on the sidelines despite the best-laid plans while widespread ill-discipline presents itself out in the middle and simply won’t go away, isn’t he?
“England too wide, South Africa too straight,” opined former England captain Nasser Hussain in summary of the pace pain experienced across the board in the high-octane Mumbai thriller.
The Proteas may consider some straightness on the talking front over the next couple of days, too.
This represented a back-foot start of some magnitude.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing