Defeat was bitterly disappointing but it was the manner of the capitulation that was worse.
The only positives to be plucked from the wreckage of a 130-run World Cup loss – a record for South Africa – were the fact that this wasn’t a knockout match, and that the back-end bowlers managed to keep India from posting a 330 total in Melbourne.
For long periods, South Africa played brainless cricket, and looked panicked. This was no choke – it was a rank bad day at the office.
The fielders put down catches and the bowlers took forever to bowl the right lines and lengths. Wayne Parnell was criticised for a loose bowling display – though the cannons should rather be aimed at the selectors for not seeing what everyone else could, in that the No7 slot and the fifth bowler was always a problem going into the tournament. The ground fielding was sloppy and it’s hard to recall when so many attempted shies at the stumps have been so mis-directed.
South Africa used to have the finest fielding unit around, though they were made to look like carthorses on a big MCG playing surface when compared to the Indians, who attacked everything and threw in so fast and accurately they claimed the big scalps of AB de Villiers and David Miller by run-outs.
When the Proteas batted, chasing 308 to win, they did so in the knowledge that no team batting second in Melbourne has scored 300, and they went about the chase largely cluelessly. Quinton de Kock was almost out first ball of the innings and looks completely out of touch – though, as they say with class, a batsmen like him is only one good boundary away from being in form again – while let’s have a look at some of the others.
Hashim Amla was caught on the boundary backward of square trying to hook, and in fact he was out in a manner in which many had expected the Indian batsmen to perish. Top-scorer Faf du Plessis was fortunate to twice top-edge hooks for four over the head of wicketkeeper MS Dhoni, De Villiers himself fell to a suicidal second run (and he didn’t attempt to dive when he saw the return coming in fast and flat) and JP Duminy played a pre-meditated reverse sweep and succumbed, probably as a result of the pressure that had built up.
It was a jittery, panicky display, and all of South Africa can only hope that it was a bad day at the office. Rather now than in the knockout stages, one can argue. Interestingly, the bookmakers haven’t been knocked sideways by the result.
Australia remain favourites – firming to 13-8 – with New Zealand second favourites at 11-4 and South Africa next in line at 4-1, with India, the world champions, at 6-1. The bookies clearly believe that the Proteas are better than what they showed in Melbourne and they are spot-on in that assessment.
If anything the result showed us what we knew all along. There is a problem with the fifth bowler, the selectors got their initial squad of 15 wrong and it will be the batsmen who win this World Cup for South Africa, not the bowlers.
The batsmen capitulated in Melbourne, and maybe they had started to believe the hype about them. It was a bad defeat, but there is still plenty of cricket to be played. The fat lady hasn’t even arrived in Australia, let alone begun to clear her throat.