• Tahir best of a bad bunch

    The Proteas bowlers would do well to follow Imran Tahir’s lead after the spinner’s crafty performance in Hamilton.

    Only three South Africans should be happy with their level of performance in the Pool B opener. David Miller and JP Duminy scored centuries to steer the Proteas to an imposing first innings total. Imran Tahir took 3-36 to ensure that the plucky Zimbabweans stuttered in their surge towards a target of 340.

    If not for these three, the Proteas may have lost to Zimbabwe. It is something to bear in mind as they prepare for the biggest clash of the pool phase. The Proteas will need more than three players pulling their weight if they’re going to knock over India and entrench themselves at the top of Pool B.

    Four of the top six failed in Hamilton, and yet there was enough class in that middle order to guide, and eventually launch, the Proteas to a score of 339. There is no reason to be concerned about the batting at this stage.

    What is a worry is the form of the bowling unit. It was a problem in the months leading up to the World Cup, and over the past week (in the warmups as well as in the opening game against Zimbabwe), there’s been little sign of improvement.

    Tahir’s performance should give them some hope. The leg-spinner was excellent on a slow track in Hamilton. His figures of 3-36 in 10 overs were especially impressive considering bowlers of the quality of Dale Steyn (1-64 in nine overs) went for runs at the other end.

    Of course, those figures only tell part of the story. The key to Tahir’s success was his accuracy and intelligence. He picked the right moment to vary his deliveries. That googly of Tahir’s is still a big weapon for South Africa.

    The other bowlers had limited success. Morné Morkel picked up the wicket of Brendan Taylor with a slower ball, and one wonders why the bowling attack didn’t employ this delivery more liberally. They needed to be more creative on that Hamilton deck.

    The good news is that the Proteas will play their next match in Melbourne. The track should offer more assistance to the bowlers. That said, they will need to show more creativity and intensity than what was witnessed in Hamilton.

    India are coming off a resounding win over Pakistan, and the likes of Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli look to be in dangerous form. It will take something special for the Proteas to remove one, or both, before they inflict serious damage.

    The 2015 World Cup has been touted by some as the battle of the batsmen. The argument is that the team with strongest batting lineup will win the majority of their pool games, and eventually lift the trophy.

    The problem with this argument is that it doesn’t account for top batsmen succumbing to the pressure at key junctures of a contest. We saw it in Hamilton on Sunday, when De Kock, Amla, Faf du Plessis, and De Villiers were all eventually dismissed by some less fancied Zimbabwean opponents. The South African attack needs to follow suit. It has to take the fight to India’s top order.

    It’s possible that the lack of occasion – an opening match against Zimbabwe in far-flung Hamilton – led to some complacency. No doubt South African fans will want to believe that this is true. They will hope that Steyn and co will get up for the big test against India, which will be staged in front of a 100,000-strong crowd at the MCG.

    It’s a test the Proteas desperately need to pass. Until the bowling attack shows some fire and complements that powerful batting lineup, South Africa should not be spoken about as contenders for the title. Until then, they still have everything to prove.