Cape Town – If they didn’t already, the whole cricketing
world knows now … the Proteas’ present seam attack in Twenty20 combat is more vulnerable
than most major-league counterparts to mass leakage.
That may sound an overly cruel pronouncement, when you
consider some of the historically proven and seriously talented individual names
within their midst.
But a mushrooming array of recent statistics don’t lie,
either: there were some wince-worthy new landmarks from the fast men as South
Africa opened their ICC World Twenty20 account in Mumbai on Friday with a
debilitating two-wicket loss to England in what can only be described as an
unrelenting sugar-rush game.
The Proteas appeared to be sitting pretty at the midway
point at the Wankhede Stadium, having plundered a majestic 229 for four – about
as good as it gets, you would think, in a strength-versus-strength type of
England, however, were not going to be cowed as they chomped
their change-over power snacks, and came out guns blazing like never before.
It was “game on” after only two overs, as they brutalised
Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn to the tune of 44 runs (a global T20 record in
itself, apparently) between them, creating an unease in the minds of Faf du
Plessis’s troops that never dissipated in a meaningful way for the remainder of
You have to give massive credit to the victorious side … it
took serious courage and composure to hunt down the juggernaut requirement,
with Joe Root quite magnificently to the fore.
The pitch was a belter and yes, the Proteas were affected by
the ever-creeping onset of nocturnal dew at the ground.
Yet that is part of the fabric in floodlit scraps in many
parts of the planet, and it is not as though the SA bowlers lack experience in
their arsenal to negate its hazards.
What is worrying is that a pattern is developing of the
country struggling to defend even genuinely formidable totals posted by their
Proteas enthusiasts will be hoping like heck that the men in
green get at least some opportunities to bat second in the remainder of their
group roster – against respectively Afghanistan (next, on Sunday at 11:30 our
time), West Indies and Sri Lanka.
It is fairly likely that South Africa will have to win all
three fixtures from here to advance, and as their former coach Eric Simons
pointed out in the SuperSport studio: “It’s going to be a tough psychological
time now for the bowlers, in particular, and the team.”
After all, if you can score at a smoking 11.45 runs to the
over yourselves and still play second fiddle, when are you ever really going to
feel confident you have notched enough runs against credible opponents to be
With this reverse, the Proteas have become the hapless receiving-enders
of the top two -- and three of the top six – matches sporting the biggest
successful run chases in T20 internationals.
All of the trio of specific defeats mentioned have come in
the space of not much more than a year (they could not defend 231 against West
Indies at the Wanderers in mid-January 2015) and two in the last 12 days when
you include the clear-in-memory failure to protect 205 against Australia at the
You can’t point fingers exclusively at the SA seamers for
this unwanted habit … although they must take the overwhelming majority of the
rap, frankly, for the latest sickener.
On the night, spinners Imran Tahir (he did not concede a
single boundary in his four overs) and previously iffy part-timer JP Duminy
were more than respectable given the circumstances.
But between Rabada, Steyn, Chris Morris and Kyle Abbott,
albeit that the last-named player was less culpable than the others, a combined
12.4 overs haemorrhaged all of 165 runs.
In all international limited-overs combat by South Africa
since 1991, I am not sure any humiliation for a pace brigade has ever matched
this one from a purely statistical point of view.
That quartet also had to cop the lion’s share of the blame for
disgraceful – I know that’s a strong word, but this does seem a time and place
– concession of 26 runs in extras, the third highest in a T20 international
innings and a pivotal hallmark in explaining this loss.
England’s extras charity, by stark contrast, was a miserly
four runs (two byes, two wides) so the difference was 22 runs in that area;
clearly so influential in a game eventually decided with just two balls to
Since genial Charl Langeveldt took over as the assistant coach
specialising in South Africa’s fast-bowling department, it has become more and
more apparent, regrettably, that their main consistency across the three
formats of the game has been inconsistency, despite ongoing sublime moments and
occasional stellar analyses by specific players.
Then again, a coach is pretty powerless on the sidelines despite
the best-laid plans while widespread ill-discipline presents itself out in the
middle and simply won’t go away, isn’t he?
“England too wide, South Africa too straight,” opined former
England captain Nasser Hussain in summary of the pace pain experienced across
the board in the high-octane Mumbai thriller.
The Proteas may consider some straightness on the talking
front over the next couple of days, too.
This represented a back-foot start of some magnitude.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing