South Africa’s problems when batting second were laid bare when India beat them by 130 runs on Sunday. The top and middle order (Hashim Amla through to David Miller) have 26 hundreds between them for those occasions when they batted first since January 2012. Those figures drop significantly when looking at their records batting second, with just eight hundreds. It’s a weakness other teams will look to expose as the tournament goes on. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
South Africa engineered their own demise through a stilted and haphazard approach against India in Melbourne on Sunday. South Africa were beaten by 130 runs by the defending champions in a match where they were completely outplayed in all three aspects.
A hundred from Shikhar Dhawan, a handy 46 off 60 from Virat Kohli and an impressive 79 off 60 helped India to post a respectable 307-7 in 50 overs. That total could have been much higher, were it not for a latter innings wobble from the Indians, but South Africa’s own wobble saw them dismissed for a measly 177 in just over 40 overs. It was a defeat stats would not have predicted (South Africa had never before lost to India in a World Cup), but statistics are like puppets: if you have the skills, you can make them say anything.
South Africa now has five days to regroup and find a solution to the balance issues which have now been exposed. The number seven spot has been a contentious point for South Africa for a while now, but on a day when the usually reliable players failed (yet again), the crucial nature of striking a balance was underscored.
The Proteas opted to drop Farhaan Behardien for the match and bring in Wayne Parnell to bolster the pace attack, and it’s a good thing they did. Vernon Philander managed just four overs before he had to leave the field with a hamstring problem. While inconsistency has plagued Parnell in the past, and did so once again on Sunday, he quite clearly was bowling according to a plan. Dhawan’s tendency to not use the crease and his struggle against the rising ball was clearly identified as something to expose. Parnell’s approach of short and length, or short and wide, very nearly brought rewards. In the 20th over, Dhawan cut the ball to backward point, where Hashim Amla played a difficult, but catchable chance. Dhawan had already passed 50, but Parnell is very much a “confidence player” and the drop clearly knocked his confidence.
Overall, though, South Africa’s bowling lacked chutzpah, and without the annoying persistence of Philander to constantly nag batsmen, they could not pierce the partnerships India managed to string together. For the most part, they managed to keep the run-rate tidy: Steyn’s 4-1-10-0 in his first spell and Philander’s 4-1-19-0 set the perfect pressure platform to capitalise. For the first 13 overs, South Africa managed to restrict India to under four runs an over, an impressive feat in a power play on a pitch where the ball was coming onto the bat quite nicely. South Africa’s tidiness continued and they kept the run-rate below five until the 33rd over. India’s batsmen, though, did not crumble under the pressure. The fact that India’s batsmen did not let the pressure get to them – and that they did not allow South Africa a way through – speaks volumes of their intent in this tournament. While South Africa’s inability to take wickets is a concern, there is no need to sound alarm bells just yet.
Still, with the batting powerhouse that lurks under the surface in South Africa, many would have fancied them to chase – or at least come close – to the total.
Once again, Quinton de Kock’s ropey technique and his inexperience in building an innings (just 27 first-class matches under his belt) became an issue. De Kock has now twice been caught by hitting the ball straight to the fielder. Players like De Kock should be encouraged to play their natural game: brutish, aggressive and sometimes foolish. But that approach should not come at the expense of the team’s fortune, as it has done twice now.
At least this time, De Kock was not the only one who gave his wicket away. Dodgy shot selection from Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy, as well as ridiculous running between the wickets, saw South Africa come apart at the seams.
India’s bowling and fielding was impeccable, and they looked every bit the World Champions they are. It was as though all their worst fears had been realised in one moment, and even though they were aware that it could happen, they had not prepared for it adequately. If anything, this could be exactly the wake-up call they need in order to assess their inadequacies.
South Africa’s woes were compounded by being fined for a slow over-rate, something De Villiers has struggled with for a long time. Their struggles when chasing, too, were once again laid bare. This problem has improved in recent months, but the end result is not great overall. Since January 2012, they have won 15 and lost 13 of the total matches in which they have batted second, and they have won seven and lost six when batting second away from home.
Those might seem like pretty 50-50 stats, but when individually assessed, the issues become clear. For the same time period, South Africa’s top and middle order (Amla through to David Miller) have 26 hundreds between them when they have batted first. That record drops significantly when looking at their records batting second, with just eight hundreds in total. There are just two apiece for Amla, Du Plessis and De Villiers. There are also fewer fifties, with 31 in matches where they bat first and just 24 when batting second. Of course it can be argued that the stats are slightly skewed by the fact that South Africa have batted first more than they have batted second, but the gap is not so significant that the disparity in hundreds should be so great.
It goes without saying that partnerships are an issue when batting second. The opening pair of Amla and De Kock have just one century and one half-century partnership when batting second, while Amla and Du Plessis and Amla and De Villiers have two century and two half-century partnerships apiece.
It’s a weakness other teams will look to expose as the tournament goes on. Sometimes, it’s something not entirely in South Africa’s control. Conditions, toss and opposition all impact how things pan out, but the absence of substantial partnerships when chasing is a glaring weakness. There is still a high probability that the team will qualify from this group, but this will be one big wake-up call before their next match against the West Indies rolls around on Friday. DM
Photo: India’s Virat Kohli (2nd R) celebrates with teammates after they won their Cricket World Cup match against South Africa at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) February 22, 2015. REUTERS/Hamish Blair