Cricket World Cup 2011
SA’s ‘squad’ tactic sparkles
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Graeme Smith (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – Roger Telemachus didn’t get a game at the 2007 World Cup and spent much of his Caribbean time, it seemed, ambling around in shorts, slops, shades and a vest.
Loots Bosman got one flimsy outing and didn’t even make it to the crease.
Oh yes, and the Robin Peterson of four years ago was a pretty peripheral figure as well, bowling 12 overs across two matches for the unspectacular return of one for 61.
Despite this situation tending to lead to a rather predictable first XI and game-plan for South Africa, they did reach the semi-finals, so it would be premature to trumpet the current brigade (so much changed in both personnel and strategic policy) to overly enthusiastic levels just yet.
All we know at present, thanks to another remorseless victory – this time over Bangladesh at an increasingly muted Mirpur on Saturday – is that Graeme Smith’s side own deserved pole position in their group and will have a reasonably favourable quarter-final, whether it be against New Zealand or Pakistan.
And as they won this once slightly feared fixture by the admirable margin of 206 runs, only needing 28 overs in the field to rout the toothless Tigers for a record low against them of 78, we are certainly entitled to suggest at this point that the Proteas’ much more embracing “squad system” in 2011 has been influential in their finishing atop the Group B pile.
Simply, there are no passengers, with just about every one of the 15 players sticking his hand up quite powerfully every time the team’s brains trust has to whittle their number down by four.
Is it just a wee bit instructive, too, that in 2007 there was greater political pressure over the composition of the World Cup party, with the semi-fit, past-his-best Telemachus a particularly idle presence as a result?
This year there were far fewer ripples over the makeup of the squad ... and on Saturday an especially representative South African XI (containing six players of colour, just for the record) did the country proud at the Shere Bangla National Stadium, whatever you want to say about Bangladesh’s ongoing limitations in top company.
How wonderfully the wheel has turned for a man like Peterson: he has been one of the individual stars of the World Cup in the group phase, his rich booty of four for 12 in seven overs taking him to 14 tournament wickets at 13.50 (economy rate only a touch over four) and joint second place in the wickets column at the time of writing with New Zealand’s Tim Southee.
Pakistan’s mercurial all-rounder Shahid Afridi leads the pack with 17 scalps.
Left-arm spinner Peterson hasn’t contributed only via his left-arm spin, either: he played that game-tilting little innings against India, and against Bangladesh also had a merry old tonk for 22 not out off nine balls as South Africa closed their innings in some style.
Of course the likeable, slightly late-blooming competitor, once the subject of much ridicule based on shaky international statistics from his sporadic activity, has also been among the leading lights in a strong Proteas fielding showing throughout the group stage.
Then there’s Lonwabo Tsotsobe.
When the South Africans put out another “creative” side to tackle Bangladesh, opting to rest not one but both of their key pacemen in Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, and keep AB de Villiers in recuperation mode as well, some South African enthusiasts might not have stifled a brief shudder of trepidation.
They needn’t have worried: big left-arm seamer Tsotsobe, who had waited so long for his maiden World Cup appearance, came out like a ravenous, caged animal and even Wayne Parnell, who had form issues going into the event, did his suitably intense bit, once nudging the 143km/h mark in speed terms.
“Lopsy” is maturing at a near-staggering rate, his range of skills broadening all the time and discipline also going “north” on the arrow, and he only confirmed once more that those who feared for his fortunes on slower ODI tracks have no good reason for that.
He was hugely influential during Bangladesh’s disastrous first Powerplay, ripping out three of their top four batsmen with a combination of challenging lines and lengths and deftly-timed short deliveries.
Like Warriors team-mate Parnell, it was pleasing to see Tsotsobe also get over the 140km/h mark at times – that is only going to make him more of a handful at both ODI and Test level down the line.
And speaking of borderline players, even substitute Colin Ingram, who had played with such aplomb on his own CWC debut against Ireland, maintained his determination to chip in for the greater cause with one brilliant stop in the field.
This bottleneck for Proteas places by compelling candidates has got to be good.
As former coach Ray Jennings noted in television analysis over Tsotsobe’s latest contribution : “It causes chaos in selection policy!”
Fortunately of the entirely pleasant kind ...