Proteas: AB’s judgement under scrutiny

AB de Villiers (AP)
AB de Villiers (AP)

Birmingham - South Africa’s captain AB de Villiers gambled with the weather gods at Edgbaston here ... not always the most recommended way of coming up trumps in this particular part of the cricketing planet.

In spite of mounting meteorological evidence for at least a day ahead that rain might interfere in the later part of Wednesday’s ICC Champions Trophy match against Pakistan at Edgbaston, he chose to take strike after winning the toss.

Hardly assisted by his own first experience of a golden duck in his 221st one-day international and 212th innings, De Villiers’s side could only compile (with 219 for eight) their lowest bat-first total in precisely a year.

On June 7 2016, they had registered 189 for nine against Australia in the Caribbean triangular series at Providence in Guyana - only on that occasion at least they still won, bundling the Aussies out for 142 in reply.

There was no such luck in their second group game at the Champs Trophy, however, as underdogs Pakistan prevailed by 19 runs on the Duckworth/Lewis method after the chase was halted at the start of the 28th over.

Given that nation’s time-honoured penchant for violent cricketing implosion, you could not say with absolute confidence that Pakistan would have won in the more orthodox way.

But they had also looked the sharper outfit by some distance at the point the game was cut short (119 for three), making them the worthy victors under the circumstances.

The performance was something of a comeuppance for South Africa after their decent enough showing in the opener against Sri Lanka, whereas Pakistan had been close to wretched in their own thrashing from India.

So the formbook flipped pretty significantly, and there is bound to be inevitable speculation in the British and other media now that, once again, the Proteas won’t quite have the mettle or durability to go all the way to elusive ICC major-event glory.

The volatile weather has been an issue throughout the early stages of the tournament, so whatever any plausible cricket-specific reasons for De Villiers making the decision he did, it had still appeared a more prudent course of action to be in a position to dictate matters at the crease while people anxiously perused their Duckworth-Lewis par scores charts with brollies going up.

Instead this fixture turned into the one that got away, leaving plenty of pressure on South Africa to get their act together for Sunday’s now-pivotal encounter with the formidable Indians back at The Oval.

Yet coach Russell Domingo afterwards defended his skipper’s choice to bat first.

“We hadn’t seen the pitch until we got here; it had been under cover for two days. We just thought it was the third game on it in the last five or six days, a used pitch.

“You generally think Pakistan’s spinners are a strength of theirs, so we tried to make first use of the wicket.

“We sort of knew there was a chance of rain but we also saw some reports that it might only come after 11 o’clock, and the game was scheduled to be finished around 9.30 or so.

“Look, hindsight is a great science; it just didn’t work out for us today. We’ve got to take this on the chin … put it together. There’s some thinking to do for Sunday.”

Domingo pooh-poohed the suggestion that complacency may have played a part in the reverse: “No complacency on our side ... we played a game of cricket, Pakistan played better than us. Complacency had nothing to do with it as far as I was concerned.”

He also said he was not anxious about De Villiers’ own, unusually fruitless start to the tournament batting-wise.

“No, not all at. He’s a quality player; everybody gets a first-baller. It’s just taken him 200-odd games!

“I have no concerns over AB de Villiers. He did pick up a little bit of a hamstring strain but the medical team will have a look - I’m expecting him to put in a big performance on Sunday as he is that type of player. When the team needs him, he’ll turn it up on Sunday; I am sure about that.”

As for De Villiers himself, he might not have found especially widespread concurrence when he said at the televised post-match presentation: “We fought really well on the field; got into a very good position.”

He went on to say: “It’s a difficult situation (in the field when rain arrives) ... you never know what to do. If I had known it would be only 27 overs, I would have attacked a lot more on the field.”    

Whatever the validity or otherwise of his views, this result may have only emboldened the considerable lobby back home who feel Faf du Plessis should assume the leadership reins across all three folds for the Proteas.

Then again, South Africa under De Villiers haven’t bombed out of the Champions Trophy yet ...

*Rob Houwing is attending the Champions Trophy for Sport24. Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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