ICC World Twenty20

Proteas left to rue their wides

2014-04-04 22:34
Faf du Plessis (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – One and a half extra overs ... that is what South Africa effectively, and expensively, gifted India as they bowed out of the ICC World Twenty20 at the semi-final stage in Dhaka on Friday.

As it happened: SA v India

Considering that they had the minor consolation of taking the Indian limited-overs juggernaut – now seeking on Sunday a prestigious Grand Slam encompassing the latest World Cup, Champions Trophy and T20 global spoils -- into the last over of the semi, it is worth chewing on just how damaging those “freebies” might have been as they leaked nine wides.

In what was otherwise another tenacious performance by Faf du Plessis and his troops, indiscipline in bowling was the primary cause of their elimination.

In short, the difference between the teams may well have been an additional over, given that the pre-match favourites conceded only three wides, whereas three times that figure was posted by South Africa’s attack.

Of course, given the extraordinary legacy of knockout-phase failure by the Proteas at ICC tournaments, that inevitable “choker” lobby both domestically and elsewhere will have their gleeful, slightly childish field day once more.

Those of more rational mind will be far less inclined to slap that label on this squad, who arguably over-delivered at the latest event -- which still holds appreciably less gravitas than the 50-overs World Cup -- just by getting to the last four for only the second time at T20 level after leaving our shores a little dishevelled in the format.

Remember that the Proteas were rather humbled at home by Australia in a rain-curtailed series before departing for Bangladesh, and never rated among the hot picks for glory.

Yet in many ways you could argue that South Africa ended up being the best-performing “non-Subcontinent” outfit at the world get-together.

Regional powerhouses India and Sri Lanka, no great surprise, contest Sunday’s showpiece, and the other losing semi-finalists were West Indies – who nowadays have dreadfully benign home pitches and load their one-day arsenal with spinners and strangling little medium-pacers in a massive departure from the fearsome chin-music formula of old.

So the Proteas could at least say they had a better time of it in the last couple of weeks in less-than-favourite conditions than long-time adversaries like the Aussies, New Zealand and England.

As Du Plessis said with some justification after the six-wicket loss to India with five balls left, “we’re a resilient bunch”.

That is a relatively indisputable, nice little gain, when you stop to think about it properly.

While much of their cricket was erratic from a team cohesiveness point of view -- only indicating how much further remedial work faces Russell Domingo and the rest of the coaching staff in limited-overs terms – one thing this bunch showed was steely determination and, more often than not, composure when the chips were down.

That is a pleasant change from infinitely more powerhouse SA sides down the years that have crumbled abjectly when silverware flickered promisingly in front of them.

We always knew that the current group (both at 50-overs and T20 level) represented a work in progress, and the big challenge now is to fine-tune with some urgency and purpose in the many ODI bilateral series or the odd triangular that will precede the World Cup-proper in Australia and New Zealand next February and March.

The pitches in Australia will mostly offer good bounce and carry, whilst the slower New Zealand ones should seam, and that automatically makes South Africa rather more attractive prospects for success in both batting and bowling terms than was the case in sticky Bangladesh.

There is no need for major, knee-jerk alterations to the squad furniture, even if certain judicious tweaks may be wise.

At the World T20, JP Duminy (187 at average 62) ended his own tournament-proper knowing he was second at the time only to blistering Indian strokeplayer Virat Kohli for total runs scored – two batsmen from the Netherlands were also ahead but they played in an extra, preliminary phase – whilst in all of Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers, Du Plessis and David Miller, SA certainly have the muscle with the blade to do well in Australasia.

Yes, the precocious De Kock had another slightly “difficult” Subcontinent experience at the top of the order, but his wicketkeeping was very convincing, I felt, and he is another who will prefer the quicker, truer strips at many of the World Cup venues next year.

Don’t forget that there is still the chance that great all-rounder Jacques Kallis will strengthen the mix at CWC 2015 if he can retain sufficient hunger over the next few months following his retirement from Tests and distracting passion for golf.

Let’s face it, apart from his batting prowess he is still a wily old schemer with the ball and might have brought some calmness and sanity to the effort in the field had he been in the ranks on Friday.

While his inexperience was understandably all too evident at times, we saw plenty of mix-it-up promise both in the losing semi and before that from the 23-year-old Beuran Hendricks: commentator Shane Warne was moved to say that he was “not a fan of his haircut but definitely a fan of his bowling”.

By the time the World Cup comes around, the left-arm seamer ought to have matured a lot further.

Whilst joining the general lament over the errant lines and lengths of the Proteas’ faster men on Friday, former national captain Kepler Wessels also said South Africa had “gone away from the yorker method altogether”, which seemed very costly against India.

It is in that specific area that a revisit of someone like Rusty Theron, whose known strength is “full and straight”, may be a good way forward.

The Warriors stalwart is still only 28 and probably deserves more exposure than his tally of 13 limited-overs caps between 2010 and 2012 before injury got in the way to a good degree.

South Africa’s one-day pace bowling remains a curious mix of hot and cold; perhaps deeper scrutiny is going to come in the next few months for the specialist coach in that department, Allan Donald?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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