Cricket World Cup 2011
Let's bask in Proteas' glory
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Robin Peterson (AP Photo)
Cape Town -- With apologies for slightly twisting the title of a 2007 Hollywood movie, there was going to be blood.
And that blood had looked like being shed overwhelmingly, at one stage, by Graeme Smith’s South African team rather than their Indian opponents at intimidating Nagpur on Saturday.
Unpalatable thoughts of the Proteas trying to chase down 400 or thereabouts on a deteriorating pitch had periodically flickered as Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar embarked on one of those batting blitzkriegs only Indian stroke-players can in their home ODI habitat.
There was a stage of the assault and battery when you could hardly have blamed Smith and his troops for looking punch-drunk, nonplussed as to which way to turn.
For it was not even as if they were bowling especially badly; perfectly decent deliveries were being pulverised, through the line and in all manner of other fashions.
And the South Africans would have been wincing uncomfortably, too, over glaring missed opportunities to snare the swashbuckling Sehwag, especially, before he had had a chance to settle into his blistering stride.
In that respect it probably has to be mentioned that Morne van Wyk hardly had his best career day behind the stumps, but every ‘keeper fluffs a few and he is no candidate at this stage for the Kamran “Clangers” Akmal school of consistent incompetence.
And you can also argue with conviction that the Proteas got the vast majority of their on-day trauma out of the way early – for it was the ever-mounting, utterly laudable nature of their fightback (and this from the team that is supposedly the global laughing stock for meltdown under pressure) that truly defined this contest.
Indeed, it is the supposed heavy CWC favourites India with all the worrying to do now in the “bottle” department, isn’t it?
They will wonder for months and even years how they frittered away their stranglehold in a match also marked by poles-apart usage of the late-knock batting Powerplay: India’s near-comical in its rank loss of momentum and later South Africa’s stamped only by urgency, passion and purposefulness.
We mustn’t get carried away: the Proteas still flirted dangerously with failure in Nagpur and, had they been beaten, rather serious doubts would have surfaced about their ability to annex this tournament, given that they would have failed both “top-tier” tests thus far against first England and then this host nation, leaving them with a slightly perilous 50 percent record in Group B with two games to go.
But at the same time South African supporters should take the opportunity to clink glasses or exchange hearty high-fives proudly before the next challenge of perky but essentially limited Ireland in Kolkata on Tuesday.
For this, I would suggest, very much counts amongst the country’s most inspiring once-off triumphs in the history of the World Cup, regardless of whether they go on to lift that wretched (for them) trophy or not.
Just at the moment, too, South African squad selection policy – hotly debated, and why not? -- is containing pretty strong elements of vindication, because the lower middle-order batting, with priceless little contributions from all of Faf du Plessis, Johan Botha and that suddenly-born enforcer Robin Peterson, critically held its nerve in the sizzling, spitting frying pan.
With men like these having got the Proteas past the post in such rigorous circumstances, why should they not feel now that they can do so again at the business end of the World Cup? They may have experienced a timely cathartic moment of sorts for the cause.
Other things to pleasingly tick on the whiteboard, moving on, include the manner in which the majority of South Africa’s attack – Dale Steyn determinedly to the fore -- produced damage-limitation defiance in second or third spells after some gory concession during the Sehwag-Tendulkar hurricane.
And the fact that gnarly old combatant Jacques Kallis belatedly joined colleagues like Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers in the heavy-scoring category – he was in the middle for a much-needed two hours on the button -- also represented fuel for high optimism as the Proteas machine steams on toward likely top finish now in the group.
As things stand South Africa remain third, but primarily because India (one point ahead of them) have played an extra game and second-placed surprises West Indies boast a superior net run rate.
But whose shoes, between the two of them, would you rather be in as far as remaining fixtures are concerned? The Proteas play Ireland and Bangladesh whilst Darren Sammy and company must tackle England, their progress to the KO phase dangerously in the balance, and the miffed Indians.
Although you would not have expected “Biff” to fret too much about it in the heady afterglow of Nagpur, captain Smith’s continuing discomfort at the crease obviously becomes a cranked-up area of concern.
Is it worth South Africa conducting another experiment against Ireland, with Morne van Wyk shifting to the top of the order and the big left-hander trying to win back his lustre a few slots further down?
Keep in mind that if Smith happened to be at the crease at the mandatory change to a harder “rock” around the two-thirds mark of a full 50-overs innings, he could be productive at heaving it to the fence then.
Still, it is not as though the Proteas are finding themselves three for one very often at the World Cup, despite Smith’s poor form: his opening stands with the presently much crisper Amla are, respectively, 15, 51, 63 and 41 so a “platform” of sorts is not wholly absent ...