Cricket World Cup 2015

Proteas: How to pick up pieces

2015-03-25 14:13
Kagiso Rabada (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Smiling, dancing sea of humanity? That’s unlikely to greet them when the South African cricket team return from another failed quest to win a World Cup.

Defiant show of appreciation and confirmation of loyalty from their most enduring and level-headed fans? You’d hope so.

That awful hoodoo goes on – some of it self-inflicted, though much of it also down to irritants quite beyond their control like weather intervention at unfortunate moments – and there’s no magic fix, save for simply hoping that in 2019 the Proteas finally get it right in England.

South Africa must be the best “nearly” team in the World Cup’s history, and as much as that makes you prone to inevitable, ever-mounting ridicule, the latest gut-wrencher in Auckland, where New Zealand denied them a maiden berth in the showpiece with a ball to spare, also earned the plucky Proteas plenty of sympathy and respect from impartial onlookers across the planet.

Those on-field scenes of despair at the finish of the semi-final, including uncharacteristically public tears in some instances, weren’t out of some shallow soapie; they were for real.

The men gave their all; they drained their tanks. Nor is it as though they didn’t keep clawing back during the pulsating, near classic strength-versus-strength contest which was overdue at the event.

Costly mistakes were made in the heat of the battle – they almost always are, across the board -- but those of sober mind will also be aware that as much as South Africa blew it again, they didn’t choke.

In the words of Kepler Wessels, an uncompromising cricketing meanie of yesteryear: “They scrapped today (in the semi) ... they toughed it out.”

And through it all, we could feel proud that good sportsmanship, noble acceptance of defeat, still managed to shine through: it was evident in post-match interviews from gutted, ashen captain AB de Villiers; similarly from a slightly more philosophical coach Russell Domingo.

It was refreshing, too, seeing the entirely fitting, consoling and staunchly patriotic way in which the Minister of Sport, Fikile Mbabula – not always tops for deft diplomacy or measured vocabulary – reacted to the outcome.

Let’s not kid ourselves: the Proteas seldom looked like the world’s premier one-day international team at this event, where brilliance was too fitful from them.

Yes, an intense revisit to the drawing board for 50-overs purposes will be required as the dust gradually settles.

But it is probably also true to say there is no single, well-established juggernaut in ODI terms, regardless of who goes on to win the 2015 World Cup. The margin between the four top one-day teams, which includes South Africa, remains a pretty tight one.

You may argue that the Proteas didn’t really deserve to win it; that there have been more consistent sides over the past few weeks.

But there is also a case, based on records, for saying that World Cups aren’t always won by sides whose engines purred blissfully from start to finish anyway.

At the end of the day, De Villiers’s troops did come damned close to winning it ... arguably the closest any South African team has since 1999, when they were perversely eliminated after a semi-final tie, rather than actual defeat.

That is just one reason to pour some tempering water over the hotheads now recommending massive shake-ups, sweeping bulleting of personnel whether in management or playing staff.

Emotion-charged amateur critics catapult from the woodwork at times like this, demanding that Player X be put to pasture on the flimsy grounds that he noticed Player Y grab three for five in an over of Momentum One-Day Cup fare before 503 spectators one blustery night at Buffalo Park.

Of course that is not to say that changes can’t or mustn’t be made to the mix.

At least some degree of baton-change will be necessary, and warranted, from the 15 who went to Australasia.

Some future planning, with the next World Cup hardly out of mind, is required and due thought given to how father time will unavoidably creep up on certain stalwarts in the interim.

I still believe, as I did before the tournament, that Dale Steyn, three months from turning 32 and a magnificently durable athlete across the cricket spectrum for years, may sooner rather than later even more greatly scale down his ODI activity or possibly pull the plug on it entirely.

Amazingly adept at avoiding major injury throughout his career, niggles are starting to become more persistent --- they may have played at least some role in his disappointingly moderate World Cup – and my own wish would be that he more markedly retune under the circumstances to his foremost arena of regular triumph: Test matches.

Happily for those who still regard that format as premier, the Proteas will switch later this year back into an overdue major emphasis on five-dayers, where they quite steadfastly head the pile; there are major series scheduled away to India in October (after a cobwebs-removing shorter challenge in Bangladesh, July) whilst in our peak summer England visit for a healthy four-Test roster.

Say what you like about the current plight of English cricket; it is still a glamour challenge against the game’s pioneers and they bring travelling support that runs more into thousands than hundreds.

Steyn had some potentially revealing things to say, pre-World Cup, in an interview for the English magazine All Out Cricket’s March edition: “Fitness will come into play somewhere along the line. Every bowler or every cricketer will get to a point where you have to draw a line and say ‘what can I handle?’ and just take it from there.

“World Cups? Well, I’ll be 35/36 at the next, so this could be my last one. And I would happily hand over the mantle to somebody like Kagiso Rababa or Marchant de Lange or a younger version of myself to win the World Cup if I felt like they are guys that are going to do it and I can’t.

“I’ll still be fine to and fresh to play Test cricket – there’s no Test World Cup so I’ll just carry on playing that until I can’t go anymore.”

It’s appropriate that Steyn mentioned the name of still 19-year-old Rabada, the abundantly talented, eager-to-learn Lions fast bowler who has had three Twenty20 international appearances already: the quicker he is let loose, albeit on his “training wheels”, for ODIs as well, the better in the long-term interest of the Proteas.

A big priority, also, must obviously be to try to unearth a better stock of players capable of being branded all-rounders for the 50-overs code, to help balance a currently lopsided XI: if there are no youngsters immediately jumping to the fore, then revisiting the claims of the likes of Ryan McLaren or David Wiese may be reasonably wise.

The last-named player has also not yet been tried out in ODIs, although the Titans customer has shown promise as a medium-pacer and hard-hitting boundary-seeker in eight T20 internationals for South Africa.

A feature of the latest World Cup has been the success of left-arm speedsters like Trent Boult for New Zealand, Pakistan’s Wahab Riaz and Mitchell Starc of Australia, and if the Proteas are finally forced to move on from the too-enigmatic Wayne Parnell in that department, then a personal hope is that Beuran Hendricks can be nursed back to best effectiveness.

Still only 24, the Cape Cobras slingshot rather laboured through the domestic summer after a back stress fracture but has shown previously that he has a lovely box of skills and pace to match at times when his body is 100 percent. Winter priority by his franchise and country: get him right if you can!

Russell Domingo is not incorrect: the sun comes up tomorrow, and every day.

South Africa tend to regroup with some stealth, often surprisingly so, after major cricketing setbacks.

This time may be no different, even as that old CWC jinx lingers, and hurts like hell.

 *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  cwc 2015  |  cricket

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