Will the Proteas wilt?

Sport24 columnist Pat Symcox (File)
Sport24 columnist Pat Symcox (File)
Make no mistake, the ICC World Twenty20 in Bangladesh will prove a tough assignment for Russell Domingo and his team. If for some reason it all ends in tears, surely heads will roll. World Cups have a way of culling players and coaches alike.

Let’s be brutally honest about the Proteas’ T20 performances of late, not only has the on-field play proved below par, but I believe the strategic thinking behind the scenes has been woefully lacking.

While the current squad is brimming with talent, and in my view is in possession of match-winners in each facet of the game, sadly these players have neither been identified nor utilised to the best of their abilities.

In T20 cricket, the first six overs of a match and last few thereof are most frequently where games are won or lost. As such, this is precisely where skipper Faf du Plessis must focus his attention.

Going forward, if the Proteas are to post competitive totals which does not see their impact bowlers under the pump from the outset of an innings, I believe batsmen such as AB de Villiers, David Miller and Albie Morkel are critical to the cause.

During the recently concluded T20 series against Australia, South Africa missed the boat completely – sending AB de Villiers in to bat at number five was a ludicrous decision. In my opinion, it spoke volumes of the national side’s ‘grasp’ of his abilities.

Furthermore, power-hitter Miller can on his day take the game away from any side in world cricket in a matter of overs. However, much like the De Villiers example, somehow Domingo and his brains trust fail to see the full picture.

As the Bangladeshi wickets will prove slower to play on, the need to capitalise on the ‘new ball overs’ takes on even greater significance.

While the fearless Quinton de Kock will take it to the bowlers as he normally does, as talented a batsman Hashim Amla is, I don’t believe he’s the answer at the top of the order. He simply isn’t the type of player who will look to go over the top and dominate the opposition attack from the outset.

Therefore, I believe the Proteas need to adopt a different philosophy. At present, it appears the side suffers from the fear of being bowled out. Surely the time has come to apply the thinking that if two batters go hard upfront and one of the two bats deep into the innings, the game is effectively won.

In the middle overs, where spin and slower deliveries are used extensively in the subcontinent, the Proteas will need to find a way to keep the scoreboard moving forward.  And then, in the final overs, the side requires at least one settled batsman at the crease able to dominate the bowling attack.

In the bowling department, Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir represent the Proteas’ impact players – both have the ability to take wickets in subcontinental conditions.

Allan Donald’s duty during the tournament will be to remind the bowling unit of their roles and the fact that games are often won or lost in the extras column – no-balls and wides can prove costly.

A fair amount has been said of South Africa arriving at the tournament as underdogs, which in effect means that the Proteas are not expected to win the trophy.

However, having worn Protea green, I can state with certainty that that won’t be the mindset the players will adopt. They must surely believe that if they play to their potential and their game strategy works out well, they have the tools required to go all the way.

That said, the Proteas have a history of failing at ICC-sanctioned events and as such, just like those before, this tournament will be about dealing with pressure.

It will come from the crowd, the opposition and most of all from inside the team itself. The key question is: how much self-belief and grit does the current Proteas T20 side possess deep down?

I believe that will be answered over their next few fixtures, starting with Sri Lanka this Saturday.

Symcox, a former South Africa international, 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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