In the World T20, AB and Faf were scratching through the garbage in search of a run. Now they are high-rolling in the IPL.
So what gives? How is it that, in the Green and Gold, their performances were so subdued, yet in the flashy world of IPL, they are again swinging free?
Take AB for starters: In four innings at the global event, he gathered 110 runs, of which 64 came against Afghanistan alone. Faf harvested 98: 41 came against the Afghans and 31 against Sri Lanka in the match that didn’t matter.
Yet, just four games into the IPL season, on the same grounds, against many of the bowlers encountered at the World Cup, our dynamic duo were among the top five batsmen, and standing shoulder to shoulder on the number of sixes hammered. They were playing with a joie de vivre and a freedom not seen in the national colours for some considerable time.
You only had to watch Du Plessis having three goes in a row scooping Kyle Abbott to realise there was a certain devil-may-care attitude. I cannot for a moment imagine him attempting such a feat in the World T20.
Perhaps it lies in the fact that the IPL is pure entertainment. Of course they would like to win, and will do their best, but you get the impression that it is more about attacking and entertaining and letting the result take care of itself.
They play with gay abandon, taking outrageous risks and ramping up their reputations for ‘that’s the way they play’, to the raucous approval of Pommie Mbangwa and Danny Morrison.
Gone is that blanket of oppression that seems to descend on the Proteas whenever they are faced with an international tournament; staggering under the weight of a desperate desire to win and appease the political masters; to avoid the ‘Bunch of Losers’ tag so readily spewed by a Minister of Gala Events and Good Times.
That, to me, suggests a management problem; one which cannot or will not address the players’ psychological approach.
You cannot tell me that AB and Faf go from being artists to house painters on a whim. I will never accept it’s because they do not want to play for the Green and Gold. They are both enormously proud professionals who desperately want to do the country proud. Perhaps that is the problem: the weight of expectation.
I reckon the Green and Gold needs be ramped up with a splash of luminous paint, a dash of glitter, a few cheerleaders and a lot more rah-rah.
Actually, it is worth looking at Quinton de Kock, who, after a massive slump has found his mojo in a big way. It is interesting that when he was trying to pull himself back to his self-imposed levels of excellence, both his franchise coach Rob Walter and the SA A coach Vince Barnes urged him to go out and play with freedom and ignore the consequences; Just Go And PLAY, they told him.
It seemed to have worked. He was the top-scorer for the Proteas at the World Cup with 153, averaging nearly 40.
He has enhanced that form in the IPL, becoming the first to score a ton as he picked up 184 runs in three games.
Contrast that, too, to David Miller. Now there is a man burdened by expectation; in this case the captaincy of the Kings XI. It is doing him no good.
Somehow, the Proteas management need to find a way to put players in a good space, so that can enjoy winning.