“Given the performance at Kingsmead by the supporting cast, that net needs to be thrown a tad wider”.
You think about South African cricket as a whole post apartheid and the first word that comes to your mind is either ‘chokers’ or ‘unlucky’ depending on how critical a person you are. The thin line between these two words have often haunted the Proteas in World Cups.
But are they really unlucky? (Yes, I chose unlucky over chokers) Of course they were in 1992 when the pathetic rain rule had a shocker in store for them. The World cried with Lance Klusener and his misfortune in the 1999 World Cup semi-finals. When Shaun Pollock sent his Mathematics professor into a tizzy with his miscalculation in the 2003 World Cup, the faces cringed. In 2015, when the Superhuman AB de Villiers almost single-handedly led them to the semi-finals, South African fans hoped against hope. Of course, they would crash out but was it down to misfortune? Nah.
Over the past few years, South Africa have scaled the ‘unlucky’ barrier but they just haven’t realised it yet because they do not have a World Cup, with which they got so obsessed, in hand. Why has a trophy eluded them?
A possible answer, and I am sure a widely accepted one, is that they rely too heavily on too few. There is either the Mighty Hash, the inhuman AB de Villiers, the swashbuckling Quinton de Kock, the mesmeric Kagiso Rabada or the mercurial Imran Tahir.
What happens to the rest?
Is the responsibility of turning around their misfortune led by just five in a team of 11?
Unfortunately, that seems to be the case.
Lack of support for strike bowlers
Nothing exemplified it as well as South Africa’s lacklustre show with the ball in the first ODI against India in Durban. With Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane on the rampage, Faf du Plessis, a thinking and shrewd skipper, found himself running around for options.
The two premier pace bowlers – Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada – had sent down a fiery opening spell and dismissed the dangerous Hitman. But they could not afford to relax with Kohli being as good as he is in run-chases.
When they picked a team with three all-rounders – JP Duminy, Andile Phehlukwayo and Chris Morris -South Africa wanted each of them to deliver their respective roles to perfection. They did not unleash a pace battery like in the Tests. They couldn’t afford to make the batting weaker with the inconsistency of Duminy and Miller.
When Chris Morris steamed in to bowl, India were 49/1 in 10 overs with Kohli pushed onto the back-foot by a sensational Rabada. Morris leaked 10 in his first over, bowled short and wide and let Dhawan off the hook.
Phehlukwayo strolled in with a few half-trackers, little variations and bowled friendly seam-ups. To two batsmen in complete control of their game, this was schoolboy stuff. Kohli and Rahane milked the all-round seamers before thrashing them around Kingsmead.
Morris had pace and extracted bounce, tried a few slower balls, but with his lack of consistency in line and length, he just made batting a lot easier for the Indians. Duminy started off with a flighted ball on the feet of Rahane that the Indian no.4 sent soaring over Kohli and into the boundary ropes. He then sent down a wide to Kohli next over and followed it up with a full, nothing delivery outside off-stump that the Indian skipper thumped through extra cover.
It was rubbish bowling. Any pressure exerted by Rabada and Morkel had been completely transferred back to the Proteas in a matter of 10 overs. With Imran Tahir struggling a touch, South Africa sorely needed their fourth, fifth and sixth bowler to show some intent and produce a breakthrough.
It didn’t happen until the 43rd over when Rahane got bored of batting and lofted to long-on off Andile Phehlukwayo. The all-rounder would go on to take centurion, Virat Kohli’s, scalp as well but neither wicket meant nothing in the context of the game.
Yes, 269 was below par. South Africa had batted poorly but the lack of intensity from their support cast was appalling and unbecoming of the World’s no.1 ODI side. You do not win World Cups, or for that matter any tournament, with such listless bowling especially when men like Kohli, Joe Root, Steven Smith and Kane Williamson wield their willows.
One cannot help but wonder if the outcome would have been different if South Africa had chosen to go with Lungi Ngidi, who constantly troubled Kohli in the Tests, ahead of Andile Phehlukwayo. Morris’ ineptitude and Duminy’s shocking performance further lent weight to the belief that this Proteas outfit needs a small overhaul in the next few months.
Ottis Gibson and Faf du Plessis have both stated that they do not mind losing these bilateral games as long as they help them identify the right players for big tournaments and widen their pool of talent in itself. This doesn’t seem like a bad ploy, especially for the Proteas who are known to boss bilaterals before failing when it matters in big tournaments. Given the performance at Kingsmead by the supporting cast, that net needs to be thrown a tad wider.