The decision to bat AB de Villiers at No 5 cost the Proteas dearly in the World Cup semi-final in Auckland.
The result of Tuesday’s play-off will be difficult to accept. South Africa had chance after chance to close this game out. They should have held their catches, and the missed run-out of Grant Elliott at the death was a particularly big moment in the game.
Of course, there were other mistakes that shaped the outcome. The selectors got it wrong when they picked AB de Villiers to bat at No 5 instead of No 4. The decision to back Vernon Philander ahead of Kyle Abbott was equally unfathomable.
New Zealand won the game off the second last ball of the game. While the Proteas will regret the missed chances in the field, they will also regret a failure to add 20 or 30 runs to their final total.
At the halfway stage of this contest, I felt that South Africa were a few runs shy of a winning score. You have to credit to the way New Zealand bowled up front, but I wonder if South Africa would have been better served with De Villiers coming in at No 4 ahead of Rilee Rossouw.
That is where you play the best batsman in your team, and De Villiers is the currently the best of the best. You need to ensure that your key player faces as many deliveries as possible. On Tuesday, South Africa started to accelerate when De Villiers came to the crease. Perhaps they would have upped the tempo a lot earlier had he been introduced at the fall of the second wicket. He would have had more time to play himself in, and ultimately he would have inflicted more damage on the opposition.
These are the small margins that can mean the difference in the big matches. The Proteas could have used an extra 20 to 30 runs from their batsmen. They could also have used a tighter display by their bowlers, and here is where I feel Abbott could have played an influential role.
Vernon Philander has been battling injury over the course of the tournament, and doesn’t appear to be in the best physical shape. He’s also not the type of bowler to play on a good batting track such as the one at Eden Park. He’s too straight up and down, and you could see the New Zealand batsmen targeting him.
Abbott would have offered something different with his swing and bounce. There’s no doubt in my mind that his selection would have made a notable difference to the South African bowling performance as a whole.
Dale Steyn battled with an injury in the semi-final, and has not been at his best over the course of the tournament. He went for 76 runs in the decisive fixture. If he could have cut that by 20 runs, the Proteas may have got over the line. I realise that he has struggled with injuries in recent weeks, but it was still disappointing to see a great bowler failing to perform.
While South Africa could have played better, you have to acknowledge the performance of New Zealand. They’ve been the form side over the course of this tournament, winning all of their group matches. They were the better side in the semi-final at Eden Park, and will challenge strongly for the World Cup title in Sunday’s decider at the MCG.
Graeme Pollock played 23 Tests for South Africa, scoring 2256 runs at an average (60.97) that remains second only to Don Bradman’s. He was voted South Africa’s Player of the 20th century in 1999, and inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame in 2009.
Due to a series of health problems that have impacted on his financial position, Pollock is now reaching out to fans in hope of some support. If you are able to contribute to his Trust in any way, please do not hesitate to call his agent Basil O’Hagan on 083 4124459 or make a deposit, however small, to the following Trust Fund.
Name of Account Holder: Rudolf Buys & Associates Trust
Name of Bank: Standard Bank
Account Number: 281 464 359
Branch: Fourways Crossing
Branch Code: 009 953
Type of Account: Trust Account
Ref: Mr G Pollock