The self-styled dark horses of the 2019 World Cup continue to search for solutions to their selection and batting woes, writes JON CARDINELLI.
This time might be different.
I turned this thought over in my mind as I watched the Proteas go about their business during the initial stages of the match at the Oval. The decision by Faf du Plessis to bowl first appeared to be a statement of attacking intent.
The call to give Imran Tahir the new ball seemed to suggest that this team may be bold and innovative enough to succeed where other South African sides had failed. And when Tahir removed Jonny Bairstow with the second delivery of the match and then took off into the outfield as only he can, I started to wonder if this Proteas story might have a different ending.
It did not. Indeed, the most disappointing aspect of South Africa’s capitulation to England on Thursday was its predictability.
Forget about labels such as ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ and consider the facts of the performance. Think about how often the Proteas have failed in this manner.
Quinton de Kock and Rassie van der Dussen were the only South Africans to score half-centuries at the Oval, and the only top-six pair to produce a partnership of substance (85). The scores of Hashim Amla (11), Du Plessis (5) and JP Duminy (8) speak for themselves.
One might forgive Amla for his struggle to contribute, as he was struck by a fierce Jofra Archer bouncer early in the innings and only returned to the field after the fall of the seventh wicket. By then, the game was long gone.
Du Plessis and Duminy, however, threw away their wickets through poor shot selection. The latter’s dismissal was particularly frustrating to watch, given there was no need for a risk at that stage of the contest.
England deserve credit. They lived up to their billing as World Cup favourites. They played like the No 1 side on the planet.
The quality of the hosts’ showing, however, shouldn’t excuse the lack of intensity and application shown by the South Africans. As many have already opined, the manner of defeat hurt more than the defeat itself.
Why should that be the case?
Perhaps it confirmed that the Proteas are not in the same class as England or the other top sides. Perhaps there are people out there who believe that this team is not playing to its potential.
The Proteas weren’t expected to beat England in the opening game. Much of the talk in the buildup was about their underdog status and how the players and coaches wanted to enjoy themselves over the course of the tournament.
That may change, though, given the pressure they’re under to beat Bangladesh and India in the coming days.
Few will expect them to beat India, who thrashed the Proteas 5-1 in the bilateral series staged in South Africa only a year ago. That said, a more accurate and combative performance will revive their hopes of a successful campaign.
How can the Proteas turn things around?
Many of the senior batsmen in the squad are still searching for form. The balance of the XI continues to be a point of debate. Du Plessis himself appeared to admit as much when speaking at the post-match presentation.
The Proteas are still searching for their best combination, and that is a concerning thought. The ongoing struggles with the bat are forcing the brains trust to compromise on their selections down the order, with batting all-rounders like Duminy and Dwaine Pretorius making the cut.
Then again, one can understand why they may be reluctant to favour a combination that includes six specialist batsmen, one all-rounder (in Andile Phehlukwayo) and four bowlers. That combination might work if Dale Steyn is fit, but can another seamer in Chris Morris be trusted to complete his allotted 10 overs? Perhaps it’s time to find out.
Coach Ottis Gibson need to find answers fast.
While the batsmen let the team down at the Oval, the bowling collective didn’t turn in an especially potent performance and there’s certainly room for one or two changes on that front.