• The golden opportunity… wasted

    The current Proteas side have a golden opportunity to win the Cricket World Cup in 2019, but it seems as if their batsmen are doing their best to throw it all away, writes SIMON LEWIS.

    It’s no secret that the Proteas’ bowling attack is world-class and capable of winning the Cricket World Cup… but they really need their batsmen to pitch up at the party with their dancing shoes on.

    The root of the problem is neither ability nor technique – they have all of that. The problem seems to be a mixture of tactics, application and attitude. While some might be amused about Quinton de Kock’s bat-smashing antics in the change room after being dismissed for 94 off 70 balls in the second ODI against Sri Lanka (see Twitter video below), I found it rather disturbing.

    I would be deeply unsettled if I shared a changing room with someone who performed like that after throwing his wicket away. Yes, of course, that’s how he felt inside, totally understand that – but what does it say about his self-control, not to mention the team dynamic, that he can behave in this manner?

    This is a tricky area, of course, not dissimilar to the issue of players being overheard on stump mikes talking inappropriately. Players have a tough time today with so much ‘intrusiveness’, and by comparison, players in the past would have gotten away with murder. Mind you, those players could then also point to the massive earnings of today’s stars, and say ‘different time, different game… deal with it’.

    The visuals indicate real rage from De Kock, and arguably, a complete lack of self-control. If there is something that sparked this outburst that we don’t know about, then obviously that would put a different spin on things, but without such knowledge, what can the cricket fan make of this ‘behind-the-scenes incident’?

    Forget about the terrible example being set for the kids, what concerns me is foremost the mindset of the player. This can’t be a healthy situation for him.

    Secondly, how can an outburst like that happen in a team dynamic? Does this suggest that certain players are beyond the ‘control’ of the coaches and captain? Try this behaviour at work or at school, or in your club cricket dressing room, and see what happens to you. So why should a professional sportsman get away with it?

    The pressure on players is monumental, possibly unimaginable for most of us. At the same time, dealing with that pressure is part of the game.

    Perhaps anger of this sort is vented in all professional cricket dressing rooms? You hear a lot of anecdotal talk about batsmen throwing bats in the changing room, but I have never heard specifics or seen at firsthand a player at any level erupting like this. Is this unique to De Kock, or is it pretty standard for pro cricketers?

    The way his teammates and coaching staff ‘didn’t’ react, suggests that this is normal behaviour, either for him or for the team as a whole. This is something on a level I have never witnessed in 40 years of watching and playing cricket, so to gloss over it with ‘hard luck, bru’ 0r ‘hey, I understand how he feels’ is inappropriate.

    If this is a symptom of the pressure the players are under, then to be fair to them, they need some form of professional help, because pressure such as this could leave them immeasurably scarred, or even lead them to do something rash that could ruin lives. Professional sportsmen have a history of suffering substance abuse or even committing suicide due to the pressure of the game – or from dealing with life after the game when that rush of pressure suddenly vanishes. The game and the fans have a duty to watch out for our stars and to protect them after all that they have given us.

    The guys have mammoth pressure on them to perform in a DIFFICULT sport, sometimes up to three or four times a week. Yeh, they make insane money, but what about the pressure eating them up inside? What mental toll does this take on a player? A human being!?

    The World Cup is HUGE for all of us Proteas fans – particularly anyone who is scarred from 1992, 1999 and even 2003 – yet the reality is that if the World Cup trophy is not being lifted by Faf & Co at Lord’s on 14 July (which I currently do not believe can possibly happen, given their batting inconsistency), then Proteas fans will moan and cry and ‘break’ social media for a few days, but it won’t last long for the fans.

    We will all move on pretty quickly to the next thing on our Facebook feed.

    Like the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the 2019 Cricket World Cup could have an explosive impact on South African society… if the Proteas manage to lift the title. And this is a golden chance for them.

    India are dangerous, but their batting hinges largely on the incredible Virat Kohli. England are also a dangerous and well-rounded side… but they have failed three times to win in the final (that’s what I call choking!). New Zealand are always competitive, but are far from unbeatable. Pakistan, West Indies, Sri Lanka… any one of them could spring a surprise, as could Australia (despite their recent poor form), yet few will ‘bet the house’ on any of those four lifting the Cup.

    The 2019 World Cup is frighteningly ‘open’ and ripe for the plucking. If the Proteas batsmen just play solidly and consistently, and then are backed by their incredible bowlers, they should be odds-on favourites to win. There will never be a better year for them.

    Failure for Australia in this World Cup will hurt them deeply as a nation (despite being underdogs at present, thanks to Cameron Bancroft playing ‘hide the sandpaper’ at Newlands), because they have won the Cup five times out of 11 and have featured in the final seven times out of 11. They expect to win it again. Losing would be a disaster.

    South Africa… it will just be another bubble burst for fans who will possibly then tune out on the team from sheer disappointment. For the players, however, failure to land the trophy could have a major impact on them, their pockets and their legacy.

    READ ALSO: Batting with the tail is an art – Quinton de Kock

    I doubt that Steyn, Du Plessis, Philander or Amla will be at the next World Cup (Tahir certainly won’t). Markram, Miller, Hendricks, De Kock, Van der Dussen, Nortje, Shamsi and Pretorius will all be between 28 and 37 years of age. On the one hand, you can say they will by then be a very experienced team… but a failure to deliver might well lead to an overhaul of the playing staff in order to build for 2023.

    Ottis Gibson could, judging by the terms of his contract, be gone by mid-July 2019, and a new coach would be keen to make his mark with his own band of players. The year 2019 has the potential to offer a lasting legacy for these fine Proteas… but it could also be their last legacy.

    South African missed the first four World Cup tournaments, but have played in the seven that followed. Of the 12 Test-playing nations, five have won the Cup, while two more (New Zealand and England) have made it to the final.

    The only teams not to have played in a World Cup final are South Africa, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Ireland. This sounds like a crisis for the Proteas, especially when the selectors are blooding new players and still testing formations, with less than three months and just three competitive ODIs before they taste World Cup 2019.

    The Proteas’ attitude about the batting seems to be, ‘yeh, it was disappointing, but we still won the game’. Somehow, this doesn’t inspire confidence as solid preparation for a vital World Cup – especially when teams seem to score 280-300 routinely in ODIs. Batting is a mind game, and their minds do not seem to be in the right place.

    There is still time for the Proteas to get their heads together, check the egos at the door and get things right in time for a fantastic, unforgettable World Cup assault. Change strategy, tighten attitudes, release pressure valves. Not much time, but enough, as they HAVE the talent.

    There is far too much at stake for them not to look deep into what the problems are and to get things right, and De Kock’s blow-up would be a very good place to start. This simply has to be done, if not for the fans, then certainly for the Proteas themselves – both as players and as men.

    Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

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    Simon Lewis