Losing to Ireland is unacceptable and embarrassing and the nature of the defeat suggests this Proteas ODI side has an uncertain future, writes RYAN VREDE.
In a now-deleted intro, I used the word ‘tragic’ to describe the Proteas’ 43-run defeat by Ireland on Tuesday. It just didn’t feel right, given that South Africa is in the grip of a deep tragedy, one that has claimed lives, livelihoods and threatens national security.
That said, the result deserves every line of criticism that will be written and spoken about it, whether from professional journalists or the public at large. The performance is equally worthy of scorn and rebuke.
That Ireland beat England a year ago shouldn’t matter when appraising this Proteas defeat. That result was met with the appropriate level of criticism. It was seen a cricketing crisis, and reflected in the press and public sentiment as such. There was no mitigation to be found in it being the last match of an already won series. England should never lose to Ireland, just as South Africa never should.
Indeed, no Proteas team should have to engage more than talent to beat Ireland. I wrote this in the buildup to the series and my view has not changed. A betrayal of that talent is criminal.
Ed Smith writes in his book ‘What sport tells us about life’: “Talent only blooms in a personality that is capable of self-improvement. And talent has a nasty habit of protecting the talented from the desire to self-improve.” In this context, it is an indictment of the attitude of a Proteas XI that dwarfed their opponents in the talent stakes.
Ireland’s performance exploited deficiencies in the Proteas. They deserve some praise, but for this Proteas team to lose to Ireland took an incredible feat of collective incompetence.
A lame pursuit of 291 for victory was marked by just two batters getting more than 25, and a collapse during which eight wickets fell for just 88 runs. They’ve now lost 10 consecutive ODIs chasing a 290-plus target and haven’t achieved that feat in five years.
As a batting aside: it remains a mystery why Quinton de Kock, who excelled on the tour of the West Indies and is one of the format’s most devastating batsmen, is being rested. There is no cricket reason for it, particularly since he got a break from the game just before the aforementioned tour.
Elsewhere, a bowling attack loaded with gifted white-ball cricketers conceded 103 runs in the last 10 overs. Add four dropped catches to the mix and you have a performance that deserved what it got.
The Proteas have conceded 485 runs and taken just nine wickets in 90 overs across the two ODIs (the first rained out). The vast majority of those sticks have come deep in the Ireland innings and are attributable to their batsmen taking risks to increase the scoring rate. This is a continuation of concerning skill deficiencies that haunted the Proteas’ bowlers in the West Indies T20I series. They need to fix this and soon.
The defeat leaves South Africa needing to win the final match in the series to save it. This against an Ireland side that hasn’t won an ODI series since July 2019, and one that comes off consecutive series defeats by Afghanistan and the Netherlands, ranked 10th and 11th in the world, respectively.
After the West Indies series head coach Mark Boucher was bullish. ‘Criticism comes with the job. I couldn’t be too bothered about the guys criticising me,’ he said. ‘If you’re here and you see what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to work things out, I don’t know if you would have the same mindset.’
His side went into that series having won just four of 16 T20I matches under his watch. The criticism was justified. This Ireland result is a deep stain on an already mediocre record, and it puts Boucher under huge pressure, even if he will tell the media otherwise. No Proteas coach should lose to Ireland and be allowed to reach for learnings and positives. There are none.
Before the start of the Ireland series, skipper Temba Bavuma, responding to questions about his side sitting third from bottom on the Super League points table and what that could mean for the nature of matches ahead, said: “It gives us a good opportunity to get our ducks in a row. If it means that we have to play games under pressure or with a lot of consequence, then so be it.”
This is that. In two days’ time the Proteas will have to win to avoid defeat in a series to a team ranked seven places below them. In reality, they’ve already failed and done so with a depth of incompetence that makes one fear for the future unless decisive coaching interventions accompany decisive selection decisions.