Yet another ICC world tournament, yet another nation not named South Africa winning it. And, worryingly, yet another untimely South African exit.
We knew that the South African cricket team has been suffering from one of its worst transitions in its short history, starting from the ill-fated Test Series in India, but their mini revival in the ODI series against England provided a flicker of hope. Importantly, Quinton de Kock, their young future captain, was back in form, and Hashim Amla roared back into contention in the T20 warm-up games. Most of their players had played on Indian pitches in the IPL, and surely they were expected to go through in a group with Sri Lanka, England and West Indies.
This time, as most watchers will agree, the team didn’t choke. In fact, they didn’t quite put themselves in a position to choke, because they were mostly outplayed. In the high-scoring game against England at the Wankhede (Mumbai), they failed to defend 229 – with their brightest star Kagiso Rabada letting dew and pressure get the better off him. Moreover, Dale Steyn was finally exposed to be quite an average T20 bowler (he always bowls length balls at the worst times), and even their fielding fell apart in the last few overs. This was a choke of sorts, but they against lost a relatively close game against West Indies, and didn’t even look convincing against Afghanistan despite putting up a large total. Their bowlers were carted around the park.
Here’s why the South Africans once again failed to do well at a World Cup:
Faf du Plessis, who has been South Africa’s T20 captain for a while now, proved that he isn’t the smartest one going around. His rotation of bowlers, and his failure to read pitches ensured that his team’s strengths till yesterday – Rabada, Imran Tahir and Chris Morris – only fired separately and never hunted in packs. Moreover, his unreliable form has only made the middle order a bit volatile – what with the lack of certainty about where their best batsman AB de Villiers should bat. Till the World T20, they had promoted him up the order as an opener, but Amla and de Kock’s fine form forced them to shove AB back down the order as a floater – at four, five or even six, depending on how early they lost wickets. One thing is for sure – they seem to be protecting him in the early overs by keeping him just above David Miller, who himself hasn’t done justice to his talent.
NO MILLER TIME
David Miller, who comes in at six, contributed with a few tiny cameos against England and Afghanistan, where the South Africans made scores in excess of 200 (the only team to cross the landmark twice), but he fell way short of pre-tournament expectations, and like AB, never really played a defining innings that would have made up for his bowlers’ shortcomings.
The trio of Rabada, Kyle Abbott, Dale Steyn have leaked the maximum runs because they played on two belters at the Wankhede – and even Morris, who later took five wickets against Afghanistan – was butchered by the English batsman. For all of Tahir’s economy and wicket-taking ability, this promising and much-feared pace attack has come up short at crucial moments, and Rabada once again failed to defend 10 runs in the last over against a choking West Indian side.
AB FEELING THE WEIGHT
After becoming captain of both the ODI and Test sides, the batting pressure seems to be showing on contemporary cricket’s greatest batsman. He did win South Africa a famous fifth ODI against England last month, but a T20 series loss to Australia, followed by some limp wasted starts against England and West Indies will have disappointed AB fans – especially the ones at the Wankhede, who only got to see him destroy Afghanistan for a few overs.
Playing their first two games on a flat pitch – nightmarish for bowlers – didn’t help the South Africans, who then had to face a rampaging West Indian side on a Nagpur turner. Nagpur is where they came undone against India a few months ago in a horrid Test match. And once again, demons returned to haunt as they barely managed 122, and failed to restrict the West Indians. Rabada went for 37 in 21 balls, while Morris went for 33 – a crime in this low-scoring game.