It took South Africa 30 overs to shake off the fear of failure in Sydney, coming off their heaviest-ever World Cup defeat.
The Proteas had headed into their third match of the tournament on the back of a complete shambles against India at the MCG. At the time I wrote that it was ‘just a bad day at the office’. By that I meant that it was an all-round shocker: the batting imploded, the bowling was abject, the fielding sloppy, AB de Villiers and David Miller ran themselves out, Hashim Amla dropped Shikhar Dhawan and De Villiers’ captaincy was iffy.
There was no way they could have another bad day like that, certainly not against a West Indies side that they had treated as cannon fodder in their recent series in South Africa. Sure, Chris Gayle had finally fired, with a 215 against Zimbabwe. But that was Zimbabwe – and Gayle’s history showed that in 21 previous innings following a hundred, in 10 of those he had scored 10 or less. In Sydney it was another single-figure failure, so make that 11 from 22 now.
For 30 overs the Proteas, who won the toss and elected to bat first, batted as though they were aiming to reach between 270 and 290 on what looked a sticky Sydney pitch. But, in doing so, they came across as short of confidence, short of belief they can win this World Cup and they didn’t seem to be truly enjoying themselves.
Quinton de Kock was again frustrated after being strangled for room and slapped it straight to point and while Amla and Faf du Plessis grew into the game, the best thing that could have happened for the Proteas was for Gayle to take both their wickets in the space of three balls.
Rilee Rossouw strode to the crease with a smile on his face and was quickly joined by De Villiers with the score 146-3 and 29.4 overs in the bank. After 30 overs South Africa were 147-3. The modern theory is to double your score at 30 overs, so 294 was the likely target, maybe 300. With this batting line-up the Proteas should never score less than 300, which again tells me the display against India was just one of those things that happen in sport.
However, Rossouw, with his 61 off 39 balls, might just come to be regarded as the innings that loosened the straitjacket that was threatening to strangle the Proteas at this World Cup. Former New Zealand batsman Martin Crowe had alluded to it – and he was right.
The Proteas needed to not over-think things, they needed to enjoy playing their cricket again. And what better way than for the resurrection to come against a West Indian side that leaked 261 runs from the last 20 overs, albeit with De Villiers smashing a remarkable 162 not out off 66 balls.
But it was Rossouw, along with his captain, who helped set his captain on his way to the fastest 150 in ODI cricket. The pair put on 134 for the fourth wicket in 12.3 overs – and it must be remembered that Rossouw scored 60 of those runs in that time. Once he was gone De Villiers turned on the after-burners.
From there on, it was always one-way traffic. The Proteas of the last two years were back, firmly in control and treating the opposition like an irritation, rather than World Cup rivals. The truth is that the Windies are a poor side, shown up as one when Gayle doesn’t explode with the bat. But, South Africa did what they had to: they won and won well, putting negative memories and all talk of them being over-rated after defeat to India, to bed.
While De Villiers’ knock simply has to be replayed over and over as a highlights reel and applauded, Rossouw was, for me, the player who got the Proteas campaign back on track in Australia.
He’s a classy batsman and one who is hard to bowl to, while that six he hit over point while leaping into the air, is a shot that only a few players anywhere in the world can execute. After this, he has to stay in the side, and for me he should either come in and open, or at No7. I’d retain De Kock – either as opener or No7 – but when JP Duminy and Vernon Philander return the selectors are going to have a tough task on their hands.
However, I reckon we should have seen the last of Farhaan Behardien and Wayne Parnell at this World Cup – when everyone is fit. Rossouw and Kyle Abbott grabbed their chances with both hands.