Proteas must maintain perspective

Pat Symcox (Supplied)
Pat Symcox (Supplied)
The competition has now reached a stage where the Proteas know exactly what is required of them. There can be no more poor performances. This is the time when the team will be judged.

The win over the UAE was always a question of by how much. If the Proteas had decided to play their physiotherapist and baggage master, they would still have had the beating of UAE.

Which of course begs the question: Could the Proteas not have afforded poor Aaron Phangiso a run against the weakest team in the competition or was he always going to be just a drinks carrier?

However, truth be told the UAE were of no standard to use fringe player performances as a yardstick going forward. It would have created a false sense of security for the Proteas.

What I keep reading and hearing AB de Villiers say is that the Proteas are the best team at the World Cup in Australasia. I like his belief in the team, but my advice would be to keep that kind of talk to the change room and to his close mates. This isn’t a time to be bragging.

It places unnecessary pressure on everyone and especially considering his team really only got through to the quarter-finals by beating Zimbabwe, UAE, Ireland and the West Indies. None of those sides rank in the top echelon of ODI cricket right now. And the two games the Proteas did play against meaningful opponents, they got beaten. So the less said the better.

Up to this point, the opening batting slot occupied by the out-of-form Quinton de Kock and the number seven spot, have caused sleepless nights for the Proteas management team. De Kock has now surely visited the last-chance saloon and will be packed away to carry drinks for the remainder of the tournament. His emotional pain will be immense and I believe it will take some serious work for him to overcome this turbulent period of his young career.

As far as the number seven slot is concerned, Farhaan Behardien scored runs against UAE and, in fact, played some really great shots much like he does so regularly for the Titans. But unfortunately, whether one likes to admit it or not, he has yet to deliver when it’s been most needed by the team with both bat and ball. Now I know he has many supporters out there, and none more so than his own captain from franchise cricket, but I’m battling to have a heap of belief if he has to do it under pressure in the final to win us the World Cup.

The team selected for the next game has to be the one you are going with throughout the rest of the tournament, unless of course there is a serious injury or a major shift in tactics.

My thinking is this: Hashim Amla and Rilee Rossouw to open with Faf du Plessis, David Miller and AB de Villiers next in to bat. I would select JP Duminy at six and Vernon Philander at seven. Eight to eleven would be Kyle Abbott, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir.

I have kept De Villiers at five and slotted Miller in at number four to maintain a left-right combination. With De Villiers to keep wicket, he probably needs more rest if we bat second.

The use of Philander at seven may seem like an interesting selection, but it solves the extra bowler problem should someone pulls up lame or in the event that there’s some juice around in the pitch. Moreover, he isn’t that bad with the bat. Let us not forget that he averages 27 in Test cricket, which indicates that he can certainly wield the willow. In the ODI format he has batted down the order and, more often than not, bats in the ‘slogging’ overs.

Thus far in the tournament, the trend which has emerged has been fast and secure starts immediately afford a team one huge advantage. The likes of New Zealand and Sri Lanka, for instance, have benefitted massively in this regard. Losing a few wickets in the first 15 overs slows the batting team down tremendously and creates immense pressure. The Proteas need to start doing that. Tahir in the middle overs has proved a revelation and I believe he will continue to be. If the pitch turns Duminy can also play a role with his right-arm offbreak.

In my opinion, we boast the bowling side to get wickets. It comes down to how well they are utilized and what the strategy is. Against Pakistan, for example, De Villiers got it wrong by bowling spin too early on. That said, I can understand his thinking. He wants to keep Steyn in the pocket for later on, because he isn’t sure that his fifth and sixth bowlers can do a holding job for him every time. His strategy is to get through as many of the weakest bowlers as early as possible. The opposite of that approach is to just rather get wickets, because nowadays even the best bowler, more often than not, is hit for a maximum at the back-end of an innings if top-notch batsmen are well-set. It is a subtle mindset change but a necessary one, I believe. Up until now, the current strategy simply hasn’t worked that well.

With Steyn, Morkel and Abbott bowling at 145 km an hour with some bounce and swing, Philander nagging away on a length and Tahir then bowling as well as he has been, any side will need to bat really well in all conditions to post an unattainable score. Throw in some outstanding fielding and we’re in the box seat, but I still wouldn’t want to tell anybody that.

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.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.
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