South Africa’s batting implosion against Pakistan bodes badly for a more challenging clash against India.
The Proteas possess the best batting lineup in ODI cricket. Few would have challenged this argument in the build-up to the Champions Trophy tournament in England.
The ICC rankings certainly substantiated that statement. Going into the Champions Trophy, AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock, and Faf du Plessis were among the top 10-ranked batsmen in ODI cricket.
South Africa had Hashim Amla, the fastest player to 7,000 ODI runs, in their ranks. They boasted one of the world’s best latter-overs finishers in left-handed batsman David Miller.
Batting was supposed to be the Proteas’ strength. Bowling, more specifically the bowling of the seamers at the back-end of the innings, was viewed as a patent weakness of the No 1-ranked ODI side on the planet.
Yet here we are, two games into the Proteas’ campaign, and the South Africans are a game away from elimination. This precarious position is down to the shambolic showing against Pakistan in Birmingham. More specifically, it is as a result of the failures of all but one of their top-five batsmen.
What about the first game against Sri Lanka? Granted, South Africa’s first Group B match witnessed some encouraging batting performances as far as numbers are concerned. Amla scored 103 and Du Plessis 75. JP Duminy (38 not out) steered the side towards a competitive 299 total.
While there were times when the Proteas were kept in check during that match, there was never a point where they were under real pressure. That test of mettle would come in Birmingham against a supposedly limited Pakistan bowling attack.
India went into this Champions Trophy tournament as one of the favourites to win the title. Their batsmen scored 319 runs against Pakistan in the opening match. Their bowlers took 10 wickets for 164 runs inside 34 overs.
Both South Africa and India possess formidable batting lineups on paper. What may separate the two sides when they meet this Sunday is the quality of the bowling.
Do the Proteas have any reason to feel confident? Yes and no.
There should be no doubt regarding the talent of players like Amla, De Kock, Du Plessis, De Villiers, and Miller. And yet, with four of the five contributing 33 or less against Pakistan, questions have to be asked about the quality of the temperament.
Was there a clear plan against the Pakistan spinners – both the part-timers and the specialists? Was there a plan to combat the reverse swing of the Pakistan seamers? Evidently not.
South Africa collapsed to 118-6. Poor shot selection and a patent lack of patience were at the heart of those dismissals. When the Proteas needed one of their senior men to stand tall, nobody but Miller appeared to be up for the challenge.
The optimists will describe the recent implosion as a timely wake-up call ahead of the third and decisive group match against India. The pessimists will view this as another sign of the team’s mental fragility.
Again, it’s hard to write this off to just another bad day at the office. The Proteas lost to Pakistan and India at the 2015 World Cup. They went into both of those games as favourites, and were expected to beat Pakistan easily. Complacency, as well as the inability to respond when the pressure was exerted by the opposition in a match situation, cost them dearly.
To reiterate, the Proteas put all their faith in the batting lineup in the lead-up to this Champions Trophy tournament. They went into this competition with some formidable batting specialists, as well as several batting all-rounders.
Yet the Proteas batsmen have fallen at the first mental hurdle in this tournament. They were under pressure in Birmingham on Wednesday when De Kock departed with the score at 60-2, just five overs after Amla’s dismissal. They lost their next four wickets for 58 runs.
De Villiers played a rash stroke to give his wicket away. Du Plessis lost concentration to edge the ball on to his stumps. Duminy, not for the first time this year, succumbed all too meekly.
That batting performance has put the Proteas under more pressure ahead of the next game against India. South Africa’s mental strength – and indeed, their batting strength – has been called into question during the first round of the tournament.
As we know, it’s in the knockout games where the Proteas typically capitulate. And as we’ve seen in recent months, it’s usually South Africa’s death bowling that compromises them in the crunch clashes.
But if their batsmen are failing… well, what hope do the Proteas have of going all the way in this tournament?
The onus is on the Proteas to make a statement in the next game against India and ride the momentum into the Champions Trophy playoffs. The batting lineup needs to fire for the South Africans to have any chance against India on Sunday, and any chance of claiming an elusive ICC title thereafter.
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