Sport

Cricket: Mental test beckons for the Proteas

By Antoinette Muller 14 June 2013

It’s becoming rather familiar for the Proteas, being in a crunch situation with something to prove. They’ve come out in top in Test matches time and again, but now they’ve got a different monkey on their back. They’re in an ICC tournament, and while they might be in the group stages of the competition, their next match is a knock-out – lose and they’ll be sent packing with empty hands. BY ANTOINETTE MULLER.

It’ll be a familiar feeling for South African cricket fans on Friday as the Proteas head into a must-win match against the West Indies in Cardiff. It’s a knockout match for both sides, and whoever loses the game will be going home.

While much has been made about South Africa’s record in knock-out matches, it’s been touch and go in their recent must-win matches in one-day series. While they lost their series against New Zealand in the final of three games, they managed to triumph over England last year when they needed to win the final ODI in order to square the series.

It’s a peculiar thing for the Proteas: while the Test team seemingly thrives under pressure, the one-day team – of which a large contingent crosses over from the Test side –  often seems to struggle with absorbing the pressure.

Much has been said about the pressure which could come from Chris Gayle in particular. It was down to an unbeaten 133 by him in the 2007 edition of the Champions Trophy that the Proteas met their end, but he’s not done much against them since then.

In the seven one-day games he’s played against South Africa since that fateful day, Gayle has managed just 162 runs and averages just 23.14 – if the law of averages is true and what goes down, must come up, Gayle could pose more of a threat. It’s been nearly a year since he last scored a hundred in one-day cricket and while he was in fine touch during the Indian Premier League, the challenge in one-day cricket is vastly different. He’s played five ODIs this year and averages just 14 in 2013 thus far.

South Africa’s current crop of bowlers haven’t had the greatest success against him, though. Of the bowlers in the squad, only Morne Morkel and Ryan McLaren have collected his scalp in ODIs. Morkel has done so thrice in five games while McLaren did it once in five games. Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, JP Duminy and Robin Peterson have never claimed his wicket, but if the conditions in Cardiff are suitable to South Africa’s new ball bowlers, they have a good chance.

Gayle is susceptible to getting out early – he has been out scoring between 1-9 runs 57 times in his career – that rises to 78 dismissals early on if ducks are included. That he is a talented player once he gets going there is no doubt, but he is not the sole threat to the Proteas on Friday.

Statistics certainly aren’t the be-all and end-all, but on paper the West Indies numbers look rather weak – both against South Africa and overall.  Yet it’s exactly that kind of perceived weakness which could lead to the Proteas’ undoing. They hold the impetus in terms of head-to-head clashes against the West Indies, having won 16 of the 25 games the teams have played against each other. AB de Villiers averages 64.25 against them and Hashim Amla 69.33.

That kind of statistical advantage might be enough to boost the Proteas’ confidence and the skipper vowed that the side would be taking the clash as a “knockout match”, similarly to the game against Pakistan earlier in the week.

“We approach it as a knockout game against Pakistan, and we played really good cricket. Like I said, the intensity is really well and very good at the moment, the energy and the team spirit is really good. We all know the pressure situations really well in the previous games, and more of that tomorrow would be great,” De Villiers said.

West Indies skipper, Dwayne Bravo, meanwhile nullified suggestions that their poor form against the Proteas would have any sort of impact and dropped the c-word during his pre-match press conference.

“ I think in tournaments, it doesn’t really matter whether you win previous games against opposition or not. I think the South Africans will feel the pressure also. They know if they lose, they are going back home. They have a tag of being chokers that do not do well in big tournaments, so that would be added pressure on them,” Bravo said on Thursday.

Many have said that the Windies looked at sea against spinners in the tournament with spinners collecting five wickets in their match against Pakistan at The Oval and India’s Ravi Jadeja picking up five at the same venue earlier in the week. This could prompt South Africa to stick with two spinners in Aaron Phangiso and Robin Peterson, and dropped a quick in favour of fit-again Dale Steyn, but in the last match the Windies played at Cardiff they simply looked lost against the bowling in general.

Their warm-up match against Australia saw quicks Mitchell Starc and Clint McKay take seven sticks between them, so the make up of the South African squad will be largely dependent on the conditions on Friday morning.

The Proteas also have one other concern: showers are forecast intermittently throughout the day tomorrow and this could mean Duckworth-Lewis coming into play, another old foe of the South Africans. The toss could prove crucial for the teams, especially if the games results in reduction of overs, and while there’s no doubt the Proteas will prefer a full game if for no other reason than to prove a point, a rained out match will mean they progress to the knockout stage on net run rate – not an entirely bad deal. DM

Photo: South Africa’s A B de Villiers dives in an attempted run out during the ICC Champions Trophy group B match against India at Cardiff Wales Stadium in Cardiff, Wales June 6, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown

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