Cricket World Cup 2015

Proteas must avoid ‘2007’ trap

2015-03-23 14:00
AB de Villiers (Gallo)

Cape Town - Remember the last time South Africa set foot in a World Cup semi-final?

Already lumped then with a global reputation - whether properly warranted or not - for fragility when the heat cranks up in limited-overs cricket, Graeme Smith’s troops decided to take the bull unusually firmly by the horns in 2007.

Chuffed to win the toss and take first strike against premier rivals and defending champions Australia, they were so hell-bent on making an immediate statement of aggression and intent at St Lucia that good sense and any modicum of circumspection simultaneously deserted them.

That semi was virtually decided within the first 10 overs, as South Africa slumped to 27 for five against veteran predator Glenn McGrath and company: the period of madness was most remembered for Jacques Kallis, normally so renowned for setting out a dogged stall ahead of any personal prosperity, giving the metronomic beanpole the two-step down the track and having his timber rattled for five.

Justin Kemp fought with intelligent circumspection, against his best instincts for boundary-hitting, at No 7 for an unbeaten 49 off as many as 91 deliveries which only delayed the inevitable as the Aussies later made relative mincemeat of the grossly insufficient target of 150 presented them.

In a flash, the Proteas were on the long haul home, ridiculed yet again after a particularly inglorious exit from a major tournament.

Any such gung-ho extremism by the class of 2015, which boasts just one survivor of that traumatic day in the shape of current skipper AB de Villiers, could prove fatal in a clash against New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland on Tuesday (03:00 SA time) that genuinely seems too tight to confidently call.

Memories of eight years ago duly banked, it is a fascinating thought nevertheless that neither foe in this one is likely to adopt a contrastingly timid, let’s-squeeze-‘em-slowly sort of template.

There are just too many players in both sides who relish life by the sword, and prosper seven or eight times out of 10 for the very reason that they brandish it so vigorously.

One-day international cricket has become even more cavalier, more daring, more searing-paced now than it was eight years ago, and trying to tell men like De Villiers, or David Miller, or Brendon McCullum, or Martin Guptill – and this at a venue with invitingly small straight boundaries -- that they need to slow down is a bit like asking the family dog, having bolted from the kitchen with a raw piece of fillet steak to a deep corner of the garden, to bring it back in an orderly manner.

This could be an enthrallingly helter-skelter semi, but as much as a traditionally extrovert performer or two from either team could have a decisive say in the outcome, don’t rule out the possibility that a more temperate moment of inspiration – perhaps from an unlikely, less heralded source in the ranks -- instead somehow tilts the balance.

The Black Caps have stormed to nine successive ODI triumphs: you don’t require me to tell you that the words “on a roll” clearly apply to McCullum’s outfit.

Then again, if you are of superstitious tendency and South African, you may be tempted to take the feline analogy and suggest the New Zealanders’ nine lives may be up, at a most inconvenient bend in the road for them.

In the heat of the conflict, the hosts may not be shy to remind their opponents that they prevailed in the last, tetchy World Cup knockout meeting between the nations, at Dhaka in 2011.

There is also the off-chance, into that bargain, that Faf du Plessis may suddenly run anew into one Kyle Mills – with whom he was involved in one of that quarter-final’s most testosterone-fuelled flashpoints – if he turns out to be the bowling replacement on the day for now sidelined speedster Adam Milne.

And yes, if the game is building to the see-sawing crescendo many anticipate it will, expect the Black Caps also to dig up - from not very deep at all - the ‘c’ word which De Villiers has creatively suggested they actually “like” being possessors of.

That said, it is not as though New Zealand have ripped through this tournament entirely in a blur of faultless ruthlessness and mental strength.

Ironically, they were so nearly victims of one of the most hapless chokes of all time at the very Eden Park, in CWC pool activity against the Aussies less than a month ago.

Albeit that they got the result they so cherished in a crazily short-lived encounter, their plummet from 131 for four to 146 for nine in pursuit of just 152, before Kane Williamson’s go-for-broke straight six, is not something the Proteas should be shy to remind them of if any counter-psychology is required.

For sure, the fixture may be decided by a smoking, clattering knock that somehow detaches itself for supremacy from the other smoking, clattering knocks.

But it may also be turned by a cool head, cutting serenely through a climate of entirely watchable chaos.

You would probably wish me to offer a prediction for Eden Park. Are you bloody mad? With apologies to Mandoza for the minor copyright breach, let’s go 50-50.

Or is that just too much of a copout?

Tell you what, then, if the Proteas emulate or very nearly match the unceasing purpose and controlled drive exhibited in their demolition of Sri Lanka in the quarters, yet also dodge lapsing into the kind of excessive brazenness that tripped them at St Lucia in 2007 ... then OK, they’ll edge a humdinger and make us very happy.  

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    new zealand  |  proteas  |  cwc 2015  |  ab de villiers  |  cricket

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