The failure of the collective has been more concerning than the failure of South Africa’s star players.
The Proteas are now two games into their World Cup campaign, and what do they have to show for it? One win, one loss, and a whole lot of doubt after two underwhelming team performances.
Let’s be fair. Certain individuals have fired for South Africa. David Miller and JP Duminy were brilliant with the bat in the first group match against Zimbabwe, while Imran Tahir, Morné Morkel, and Vernon Philander made some important contributions with the ball.
But even though the Proteas won that match, it felt like they lost. The Proteas’ top four batsmen failed to show any sort of mettle or determination. The bowling unit leaked as many as 277 runs. To recap, this was against Zimbabwe, who aren’t expected to make it out of the pool stages.
The only thing that was different about the recent game against India was the result. Apart from Tahir, the bowlers lacked ideas and control. There was a brilliant run out, but then Hashim Amla let the team down in a big way by dropping a relatively easy chance at gully. Then the batting implosion. It was frantic, disjointed stuff.
The Proteas need to pull together quickly. Thanks to the tournament format, they are likely to qualify for the play-offs even if they lose two more matches. That shouldn’t be the priority at this point, however. They need to get back to doing the basics well. They need to focus on improving the performance of the respective batting and bowling combinations rather than hope that one of their several world-class individual comes off in a big way.
During the 2014 Fifa World Cup, there was a great meme doing the rounds on social media platforms. It poked fun at certain teams who boasted one or two outstanding individuals but not the unity or synergy to be genuine contenders. It may have been generated in the name of fun, but then the nation with the best team went on to win the trophy. Nobody can say that Germany, the best combination on show, didn’t deserve that title.
Cricket is much the same. If you look back at the successful sides of yesteryear, they have boasted an excellent balance. They have been more than the sum of their parts. While the big-name players have often performed when it has mattered most, the less celebrated stars have also played a key role. This is what happened at the MCG this past Sunday. India produced an outstanding team performance.
While Shikhar Dhawan was lauded for his century, Ajinkya Rahane also received credit for his role in driving India towards 307. Dhawan and Virat Kohli put on 125 runs for the second wicket, and then Dhawan and Rahane matched that for the third wicket. Those partnerships were crucial.
It was the same on the bowling front, where India performed as a unit. The run out of AB de Villiers was described by many as the big moment of the game. What needs to be remembered is the pressure generated by the Indian bowlers in the buildup to that dismissal. That wicket belongs as much to the bowlers as it does to the fielder, Mohit Sharma.
Miller and Duminy put on a world record partnership for the fifth wicket in their demolition of Zimbabwe in Hamilton. But it must be a concern that there’s been only one other batting partnership of substance at this tournament, namely the 68-run stand between Faf du Plessis and De Villiers against India.
The bowlers haven’t fired as a combination. Fingers were pointed at Farhaan Behardien after the game against Zimbabwe, and Wayne Parnell was blamed for the poor showing against India. While their individual contributions haven’t been up to standard, they are part of a bigger problem.
Dale Steyn has achieved figures of 1-64 and 1-55. Morné Morkel has been equally underwhelming, taking four wickets overall but none with the new ball. These are important players for South Africa, players who need to be working together and taking the fight to the opposition batsmen.
The fifth bowler has been a problem for South Africa, but what’s also put the team under pressure is the lack of wickets in the first 20 overs. In the past two World Cup games, the Proteas have taken only two wickets in this period (one in each match). This has allowed the opposition to set a platform.
The quality of performance will be more important than the result this coming Friday. This Proteas team may possess several world-beating individuals in De Villiers, Amla, Steyn, and Morkel, but they will need a team rather than a handful of individuals to win this World Cup.