Will the real South Africa please stand up?
A World Cup has started, yet it feels as if they aren’t quite aware.
Any team that boasts a batting line-up consisting of Amla, ABdV, de Kock, Millers, Faf and Duminy is always going to score runs. Lots of runs.
Any team boasting a bowling line-up of Steyn, Philander, Morkel and Tahir will contain teams. Plenty of teams.
However, these Africans have been extremely unconvincing in their last two games.
Firstly, they took on the highly fancied New Zealand in a warm up game. The Kiwis know how to punch above their weight. In rugby, they are the most feared team in the world. It is amazing that a country of just 3 million people build the scariest men.
Although in cricketing circles they have never been held in the same reverence, coming into this World Cup, they are surely not without a chance.
The South African teams of yesteryear would have hit that warm up game in Christchurch like a Mohammed Ali uppercut lands on a chin. They would have shown these young upstarts who is boss. South Africa doesn’t tolerate teams they don’t admire. They don’t admire New Zealand. There are no shrines to their feats anywhere in Cape Town.
But steamroll they did not. Instead, they were slaughtered.
Some could write that off as an aberration. It was just a warm up game. New Zealand are actually pretty good. It won’t happen again.
Well, it hasn’t happened again in the same sense, but their World Cup opener against Zimbabwe will go down as a disaster by those in the know.
Yes, South Africa won the match. Yes, Duminy and Miller created a world record 5th wicket partnership. Yes, they restricted their opposition to under 300 on the small Seddon Park ground.
But that would be missing the point.
Zimbabwe are ok but are no world beaters In the recent tri-series in Harare, they were clean swept by South Africa.
The Proteas should have expected to win this match easily. The scoreboard will show that they did. But this does not reflect the true story of the match.
At 4/83 with de Kock, Amla, Faf and ABdV back in the sheds, the world stood up and took notice. It could have been a fluke by Zimbabwe, but it wasn’t. They bowled well and kept the pressure on. The pitch held no demons but Dav Whatmore’s plans were being adhered to.
Duminy and Miller put on 256 and helped South Africa post a par score of 339. Those two lads will never again feature in a partnership like that. They batted well, but the Saffas got lucky. A better bowling attack would have kept the pressure on.
You would expect that this top order in the normal scheme of things would be 4/200+. The tail is left to make the final 100 runs. Today, it was flipped. Some will argue that this is a strength. Batting depth should not be scoffed at. However, batting depth is only useful when used in fits and spurts. At the moment, it is a constant. Against New Zealand, the whole team couldn’t even crack 200 runs.
The bowling attack is also still asleep.
It is the best one in the tournament. Their fast bowlers of Steyn, Philander and Morkel are at least on a par or better than that of Johnson, Starc and Hazelwood. Tahir is the best leg spinner in the World Cup. He may not be a good Test bowler, but it is difficult to fault his ODI record.
Why then did this attack leak over 330 runs against New Zealand?
Against Zimbabwe today, they found themselves taking only only 3 wickets coming into the 37th over. They had also leaked 214 runs in that time against the ODI team ranked 10th.
South Africa did clean up the last 7 wickets rather cheaply, however, the Zimbabwean batting line up is mediocre at best.
To win a World Cup, all cylinders need to be firing in perfect unison. The reality is that this doesn’t necessarily need to happen until the second half of the tournament. South Africa well know this. They have never managed to achieve it. They don’t have that very special ICC trophy in any cabinet to show off to their guests.
To illustrate my point, the last time the World Cup was in Australasia, Pakistan walked away with the trophy after only winning 1 of their first 5 matches.
South Africa will do better than that. Much better. However, the competition from Australia and New Zealand will be fierce. There is also room for a potential smokey to challenge as well.
It is time for the Proteas to pour a bucket of cold water over their collective heads and wake up.
At the risk of closing with a cliche, they are clearly a team of champions. I hope they will prove to us that they are also a champion team.
Reproduced with permission at First Post