The Proteas have collected another wooden spoon to add to their growing collection. They might be top of the world in Test cricket, but when it comes to the shorter format of the game, they’ve got plenty to ponder before the summer starts. By ANT SIMS.
Another year, another ICC tournament – and another wooden spoon. It’s a trend that just won’t buck for the Proteas, and while there was little choking and just a whole lot of bad playing this time around, they have a few tough calls to make ahead of a long summer of cricket.
Knowing their fate before the match against India teed off on Tuesday, South Africa could only play to salvage some pride and prove to themselves – and perhaps the fans – that they were not a bunch of losers who would buckle as soon as the going got tough.
The first sign that they were willing to go out swinging was the inclusion of Faf du Plessis ahead of Richard Levi. While Du Plessis struggled in England, he is vastly experienced on sub-continental conditions and offers South Africa an extra bowling option on slow, sticky tracks. He bowled just one over as South Africa managed to restrict India to 152-6 in 20 overs. Robin Peterson – who has had a spectacular tournament – impressed yet again, finishing with figures of 4-0-25-2.
Suresh Raina impressed with the bat for the men in blue, hitting 45 off 34 as India looked to sneak through to the semi-finals. To do that, they needed to restrict South Africa to 122 in their chase, and they nearly did. Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis flopped at the top of the order for South Africa, being dismissed for zero and six respectively, and AB de Villiers' struggles continued as he managed just 13. Du Plessis then upped the ante and smacked 65 off 38. Things continued to go awry for the Proteas, though, as the lower order slumped into a collective heap; and while India didn’t qualify, South Africa did lose as they were bowled all out for 151 with one ball left to spare.
That the team is disappointed, that they feel terrible and that they feel that they have failed, there is no doubt. They’ve been on the road since July and there’s little respite awaiting them, with some of the national stars being flung right back into domestic and Champions League action almost as soon as they step off the plane – before they prepare for a tour of Australia and a summer which sees New Zealand and Pakistan visit their shores.
Nobody doubts that the Proteas tried, but there are some serious concerns and the creases need to be ironed out quickly. The T20 team is a relatively new as a unit and it’s like that a couple more changes will be made ahead of the tour of Australia – South Africa might opt for a completely fresh look as they look towards rebuilding for life after Kallis and Johan Botha, who played his last game for South Africa on Tuesday. Kallis, of course, is unlikely to remain part of the T20 side and finish his international career as a Test stalwart, while Botha is off to go play cricket in Australia – a monumental loss to the team.
There’s little time to linger on potential departures, though. South Africa has to dissect and assess what went wrong where and fast. Shot selection, not having faith in spinners when the conditions are tailor-made for them, and struggling to find the right combination in a squad of talented players all stood out during South Africa’s campaign in Sri Lanka.
If a week is a lifetime in politics, then it’s an eternity in hell if you a Protea taking part in an ICC tournament, and De Villiers was the first to admit there was something missing.
"’Disappointed’ isn't the word to describe it. We've had a poor tournament," he said.
"We've let the country down and that's what hurts most. We did all the preparation possible, we thought we were ready, but the guys didn't click."
Not clicking is one thing; completely discombobulating as a unit is another. How they go about fixing it might just be the biggest test of Gary Kirsten’s career – and the post-mortem begins now.
India: 152-2 (20 overs), Suresh Raina 45 (34), Rohit Sharma 25 (27), Morne Morkel 4-0-28-2, Robin Peterson 4-0-25-2
South Africa 151-10 (19.5 overs), Faf du Plessis 65 (40), JP Duminy 16 (23), Zaheer Khan 4-0-22-3, Lakshmipathy Balaji 3.5-0-37-3
India won by one run with one ball still remaining. DM
Photo: A fan is seen celebrating on a screen as South Africa's Morne Morkel (L) celebrates with wicketkeeper AB de Villiers after taking the wicket of India's Gautam Gambhir during their Twenty20 World Cup Super 8 cricket match in Colombo October 2, 2012. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte