Cape Town - Well, if a donkey is going to somehow steal the ICC World Twenty20 “horse race”, then count the Proteas among the candidates at this point.
As it happened: SA v Netherlands
South Africa continue to play in this particular format of the game – the trend began a fair bit before this tournament – as if most of the team have their legs tied together.
For collective cohesion, efficiency and tactical clarity, they are unconvincing in the extreme.
Desperately nearly turned to smelly cheese by the Dutch minnows at Chittagong on Thursday, it is nevertheless an indisputable fact that they, irony of blistering ironies, have been the beneficiaries of successive opponents this week choking at key stages of a contest against them.
New Zealand bungled it the other day; now it was the turn of the game but naive part-timers from the Low Country to dig their own graves after a fairytale win – possibly even a bizarrely big one, for good measure – had once beckoned brightly.
Give some credit, in each instance, to desperate last-ditch resolve from Faf du Plessis and his not particularly merry men: it’s made a welcome change from many prior ICC global get-togethers when the boot in that respect has much more often been on the other foot.
In the oddest of ways, are South Africa inadvertently building a head of steam in Bangladesh?
Although less commonly in recent times, many of us are quite well versed in seeing Proteas outfits waltz through early stages of world limited-overs tournaments, only to crumple in a heap when the knockout heat is turned up.
Things are happening in reverse at this one: indeed, so faltering have the South Africans been as a unit thus far that you have to believe a really good 11-man performance or two is overdue, and perhaps even imminent.
They’ve won two of three group fixtures so far, and mostly on the back of epic personal performances from JP Duminy and Dale Steyn (against the Black Caps) and then a match-winning bowling display on his 35th birthday by leg-spinner Imran Tahir on Thursday.
Tahir, in his 10th T20 international – he has now grabbed 18 wickets in total at 11.33, economy rate no less impressive at 5.51 – nailed his best figures yet of four for 21 and was instrumental in the Dutch getting mid-innings yips from which they never recovered, despite a searing start to their chase of a sub-standard 145 from nine from the supposed superpower they were up against.
Between them, Tahir and Steyn, who have carried an otherwise glaringly shaky SA attack, lead the wicket-taking charge at the event with nine and eight scalps respectively.
While it is true that T20 matches are often won anyway by the freakish brilliance of a single player, sometimes in a short yet utterly destructive burst with either bat or ball, you do need the team to back it up with vital cameos here and there, and suitable zest throughout the ranks.
At the moment the Proteas, however, are operating like a puzzlingly disjointed unit with a handful of gazelles striding out powerfully in front of the pack and a bunch of puffing fatties, if you like, bringing up the rear to conspicuously undermine the collective cause.
Blushes spared by six runs against the Dutch, South Africa stay reasonably strongly in contention for the semi-finals ... and that is a merciful bottom line, really, amidst their range of uncertainties and frailties.
A snag is that their net run rate remains ordinary, meaning that not even victory in their last group game against England on Saturday, making for three victories out of four, will necessarily ensure them a ticket to the last four.
Something also to consider before getting too optimistic – not that there’s too much current danger of that – is that the Proteas have the drawback of being the only side in their five-team pool not in action on Monday’s last day of activity in it.
England play the Netherlands and Sri Lanka tackle New Zealand, so all teams with semis aspirations by then ought to have a good idea of what they need to do to make the cut at the expense of others.
As said previously, there is little that can be done from within the tournament squad to strengthen South Africa’s batting – just another quirk was that slightly under-fire Hashim Amla was the one top-order man to cut loose in a fairly satisfying way on Thursday – but alternative personnel for bowling duty do come forcefully to mind.
Management have tolerated Lonwabo Tsotsobe’s recent, but protracted lack of strike power for too long, and he took his mediocrity to new levels by being thumped around unceremoniously even by the second-tier nation: his tourney return is now 1/106 from 12 expensive overs.
All-rounder Albie Morkel’s position must also come under fresh scrutiny, and the Proteas could do a lot worse than hand games against England to both Wayne Parnell and another spinner in the shape of Aaron Phangiso as they strive to give deeper meaning to the not unimportant word “team” ...
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing