Cape Town – Hashim Amla has called it “the kick-start we
needed”. The less complimentary might be more inclined to suggest that South
Africa arrived in Zimbabwe with a lousily flat battery and never actually found
any jump leads.
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Unofficial or not, the Proteas’ won-two-lost-three
performance in a triangular Twenty20 tournament dominated in composition by
known minnows has to go down as one of the country’s least edifying outcomes of
the post-isolation era.
Before assessing the failed winter exercise further, it is
probably necessary to banish the indignation of the hopelessly naive: no, this
T20 flop does not mean that South Africa’s broad cricketing shares suddenly
nosedive ahead of their crucial, overwhelmingly Test-geared tour of England
Just for the record, only one member of the infinitely more
seasoned, largely settled Test XI likely to take to The Oval for the first
five-dayer from July 19 – Amla, who is probably extremely happy to return
captaincy cares to Graeme Smith and focus on what he so obviously does best –
made the rather ill-fated trek to Harare.
For the most part, the T20 squad humbled in the triangular
was an essentially experimental outfit designed to give coach Gary Kirsten and
the selectors a better idea of which players to prioritise for the ICC World
Twenty20 in Sri Lanka from September.
South Africa, frankly, have seldom looked too sparkly in
this format, which arguably has little gravitas outside of the global
get-together every two years. It is not a situation that has given too many
people sleepless nights.
That said, the Proteas are extremely mindful of the huge
public pressure, understandably, to deliver an ICC limited-overs tournament
trophy after many years of suffering on that front.
So South Africa will take the Sri Lankan event seriously ...
and I imagine they will also pin their faith pretty strongly in experience for
it, bearing in mind this debacle of sorts with a lorry-load of raw or
relatively raw customers failing to grab the Zimbabwean opportunity to make a
You have to feel sorry for some likely casualties: T20 is a tricky
arena to suddenly burst into as a rookie and excel at: bowlers missing correct length
by an inch or two can be pummelled, mis-hits sometimes earn sixes and so often
middle order batsmen in this game come to the crease with, say, four overs to
go and a pot-luck slog on.
Coming out of a cold South African off-season and clicking
straight into a masterful gear is just as tall an order.
Yet when chances like this do come about, they have be to
capitalised on nevertheless ... and let’s just say the trip ended up being a
good one to miss, generally speaking, by gnarly senior Proteas like AB de
Villiers, Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
Their very necessary return to the T20 mix in Sri Lanka was
only highlighted; with it will come a comforting restoration of “order” in so
many respects, as they contemplate a group also featuring the host nation and
their highly unlikely current nemesis Zimbabwe, intriguingly enough.
It is a source of some concern, however, that a South
African representative team could look quite so inept and out of sorts across
the disciplines for roughly the duration of a tourney against such modest
opposition -- rustiness can only be cited up to a point, can’t it?
Here are a few random notes I made after watching much of
the tournament; call them extractions from the rubble, if you like:
Richard Levi: Good tourney statistically -- second-highest
runs-scorer to the Zimbabwean revelation Hamilton Masakadza, even if he didn’t
always cash in fully on good personal starts at the top of the order and can
look a tad cumbersome in the field.
Farhaan Behardien: may pay the price, for the time being,
for one painfully slow knock of 16 against Bangladesh (strike rate 61).
Colin Ingram and Justin Ontong: inconclusive series by each;
bits of promise but ultimately lowish returns. Ontong’s been in and out of
international cricket for 11 years; still no real signs of bedding down?
Dane Vilas: Reasonably smart and confident behind the
stumps, but outfoxed cheaply by spinners twice in short-lived turns at the
Chris Morris: Is it just me or has this guy possibly got
something? Bowling economy of 6.73 was fair enough, mixed it up a bit and
looked quite composed. Not sure quite ready for ICC World T20, mind.
Faf du Plessis: Blushes-sparing runs in the final, always a
factor in the field, and leggies largely kept a lid on things. Let him go to
Lonwabo Tsotsobe: Ho-hum with the ball, desperately dodgy
fielding. You can get away with that a little more in ODIs, where his bowling
record remains excellent, but in the super-condensed format? Not so sure ...
Marchant de Lange: Limited-overs growth pains continue. But
these need to happen?
Wayne Parnell: Eish! Enigma, as ever. Teetered wildly
between pretty hot and lamentably cold.
Robin Peterson: Praiseworthy bowling all the way to the
final, when he went for six, four, four off his first three balls and couldn’t
recover. But that happens.
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