The Proteas owe themselves and the nation a more traditionally combative performance at the back-end of the round-robin phase, writes JON CARDINELLI.
One out of eight. Some might read that as a rating of the Proteas’ performance thus far, following the defeats to England, Bangladesh and India, as well as an uninspiring batting display in the weather-hit match against the West Indies.
There’s nothing subjective about those numbers, though. The Proteas have accumulated one out of a possible eight log points after four round-robin matches, and currently sit at ninth in the World Cup standings.
Is there any point in poring over the permutations and discussing what Faf du Plessis and company need to do to make the semi-finals? A study of the equation eventually leads one to back to an undeniable fact: This side have given us no reason to believe they can win a single match, let alone five in succession.
The past four games have highlighted South Africa’s deep-rooted batting problems. The depth of the bowling has been exposed, following the withdrawal of Dale Steyn and the sidelining of Lungi Ngidi.
The catching and work rate in the field – and by extension, the attitude of the collective – have been that of an amateur side rather than that of a national team ranked among the best on the planet.
The Proteas have been sleepwalking their way through this World Cup. The bad dream has quickly become a nightmare, and nobody – from coach Ottis Gibson to the senior individuals in the side – has managed to wake the collective from their stupor.
More of the same from South Africa at a World Cup? Hardly. What the Proteas have produced over the past week or so in England has been, for lack of a better description, un-South African.
In the past, we’ve watched less talented South African teams fight and claw their way to within sight of a big World Cup win, only to fall at the final hurdle. We’ve bitterly lamented the execution or decision-making that’ve cost them at crucial moments. The effort and desire of the individuals, however, have never been in question.
The 2019 World Cup has delivered a surprise in the sense that the Proteas have performed even worse than anyone believed they could or would. While they were not among the favourites at the start of the tournament, they were expected to push ODI giants like England and India close. They were certainly expected to bank a win against a plucky, yet limited Bangladesh outfit.
After each game, however, the same question has persisted. What exactly is the problem?
Ageing players such as Hashim Amla and JP Duminy are failing. Rising stars such as Aiden Markram and Rassie van der Dussen aren’t making the most of their opportunities. Quinton de Kock and David Miller, who are somewhere in-between the two groups in terms of age and experience, are taking the bait and holing out all too often.
Experienced bowlers are missing their lengths and leaking too many extras. Top fielders, such as Miller and Kagiso Rabada, are dropping routine catches.
These are quality players. On paper, this looks a good and well balanced side. And so, the question keeps getting asked, why are the Proteas failing so consistently?
We keep hearing about how the team is in a good mental space. The on-field performances, however, suggest that the opposite is true.
The numbers tell a story of a batting lineup lacking in mental fortitude and a bowling unit wanting for discipline. The fielding has been lethargic, and overall the buzz one would typically associate with a confident and well-prepared side has been absent.
What we’ve seen is a team going through the motions. There’s been nothing special about the individual and collective performances. When the opposition has applied any pressure, the Proteas have wilted.
Gibson and his coaching team must take responsibility for the quality of the recent performances. That said, each and every player must ask himself whether he gave his all in the first four games, and what he can do to turn the campaign around in the next five.
No superhero will be flying to the Proteas’ aid over the next few days. AB de Villiers won’t be coming out of international retirement.
Perhaps we will be pleasantly surprised in the coming match against Afghanistan. Perhaps the Proteas will find their fire to win convincingly against the minnows and boost their net run rate in the process.
Perhaps one or two bowlers will find their rhythm and the big-name batsmen will convert those 20s and 30s into 80s and 100s. Perhaps the South Africans will show some spirit.
We will have cause to talk about the semi-final equation on the back of that kind of performance. We will have reason to believe that South Africa can topple more fancied teams such as New Zealand and Australia, and neutralise potential threats such as Pakistan.
Until the conclusion of Saturday’s game, however, we can only demand more of this underachieving Proteas side, and echo the sentiments of Du Plessis and many others: South Africa haven’t been good enough at this World Cup, and each and every individual needs to step up in the coming weeks.
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