Ken Borland - SuperSport
Johannesburg - As South Africa's Cricket World Cup chances slipped away faster than an eel through their fingers during their quarter-final match against New Zealand in Dhaka, an awful realisation dawned on convenor of selectors Andrew Hudson.
"Throughout the World Cup, we felt that if something were to go wrong, it would be the bowlers that would let us down. Batting-wise, we had such a good top six that we didn't need to consider a hitter lower down the order. We felt the top six would score the bulk of the runs, like Sri Lanka, we backed them to do that," Hudson said while addressing the Gauteng Cricket Board awards evening at the Wanderers on Thursday night.
South Africa had done everything right until 18:45 on March 25, their bowlers limiting New Zealand to 221 for eight.
But then Hashim Amla was freakishly dismissed in the first over of the run-chase (although purists will say he shouldn't have been cutting), and the rest of the land's finest batsmen began throwing their wickets away. While it was bad luck that South Africa had lost the toss and had to chase, they had only themselves to blame for ensuring another generation of cricketers will lug the World Cup chokers tag around with them.
"Our achilles heel turned out to be our batting, which came from left field and was really unexpected. It was a gettable target, a game we should have won. If we hadn't have been so measured at the crease, maybe things would have been different. If we'd been playing India or Australia, maybe the batsmen would have been up for it?" Hudson mused.
"They've shown the ability to chase down huge totals - like the 438 game - when they can play with freedom and it doesn't really matter if they lose. But we battle to chase relatively easy targets."
While the backlash from the frustrated South African public was predictable, Hudson says the answer is not to tear the team asunder.
"I'm not saying for one minute that we must chuck all those players out. We will blend youth and experience, rotate players and give the older guys some breaks. But a new coach will also bring a new broom and new captains are also on the cards."
The former South African opening batsman did stress, however, the value of players who are able to perform in the most taxing circumstances and any new caps will be assessed according to that quality.
"We need to find players of character, who have it oozing out of them. When things are tough, they step up, they hold the team together, they won't be shaken. We want guys who have a history of not giving up, who are willing and able to stand in the gap; who will treasure and prize their wicket and not just give it away," Hudson said, adding that flair, talent and skill were extras that could be mixed in later.
But these are still exciting times for South African cricket as the outgoing ODI management team of Corrie van Zyl and Graeme Smith pass the baton to as yet undecided successors.
Hudson's exquisite strokeplay combined brilliantly with the more gritty skills of Gary Kirsten when they opened the batting for South Africa over a decade ago. Could they be the partnership that restores hope going into the next World Cup?
*Bowlers Richard das Neves and Eddie Leie were named the Gauteng players of the year, while all-rounder Zander de Bruyn was the Highveld Lions Player of the Year.