Cricket World Cup 2015

Proteas have time to smarten

2015-02-22 19:01
Hashim Amla (Gallo Images)

Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – Whatever happens in the remainder of their campaign, this World Cup will be remembered as one where South Africa certainly didn’t hit the ground running.

There were certain danger signals in their schizophrenic start-out victory over neighbours Zimbabwe a few days ago; red lights are flashing more ominously now as India handed them one of their worst CWC defeats at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday, both on paper and psychologically.

Inevitably, some Proteas enthusiasts will be cursing that the Armageddon has arrived once again for them at a tournament where failure, let’s face it, is the dominant theme of SA participation down the years.

But that is a premature judgement.

For one thing, AB de Villiers’s men aren’t exactly teetering on the brink yet with one loss and one victory, and four group matches still to go.

They stay smart money to beat at least three of West Indies (their next challenge in Sydney on Friday, 05:30), Ireland, Pakistan and the UAE -- and most likely all four, wouldn’t you think?

Granted, a top-placed finish in Pool B now looks India’s for the taking if they keep their composure, and a surprising number of people are already speculating that MS Dhoni’s presently slick, cohesive troops might thus have the task of facing England in an “easy” quarter-final if they end fourth in Pool A.

A lot of water is yet to flow under the bridge for that scenario to come to fruition ... and besides, are there any guarantees the English will still be playing like turkeys by then?

The World Cup, as currently structured, is a painfully long tournament (the final is on a distant March 29) and most teams are going to experience, even if to varying degrees, certain peaks and troughs along the way.

South Africa’s start has been inauspicious; the optimistic, perhaps even most sensible view is that this known, high-quality outfit will catch the proverbial wake-up as the event snakes onward.

Maybe their video nasty – this 130-run pounding -- is out of the way.

The Proteas might also do well to constantly keep not too far from the back of their minds the fact that Sunday’s conquerors lost to them at the last World Cup ... before proceeding to the overall silverware.

There is time to correct various woes, some of them fairly straightforward.

For instance, key batsmen De Villiers and David Miller are bound to make firm mental notes not to allow themselves to be run out in fatally risky fashion again for a few weeks, and Hashim Amla will rue – though rightly not for too long -- a rare gremlin in the field where he spilled a chance offered by Shikhar Dhawan (137) when he had well less than half that tally.

So that is the bright outlook, and it still deserves to have plentiful subscribers.

But of course there’s a down side: further confirmation was unpleasantly served at the MCG, where India were egged on by a near home-style crowd for them of some 85,000, that the Proteas still have big structural flaws exploitable by canny or well-armed foes, and ones which remain a possible impediment to going all the way to glory.

The No 7 berth sticks out not so much like a sore thumb any more: it is more like Mike Gatting’s nose after its brutal rearrangement all those years ago by a Malcolm Marshall short ball.

On Sunday, the Proteas reinstalled Wayne Parnell for similarly fragile Farhaan Behardien in the slot that has become a stubborn Achilles’ heel.

Instead of a solution coming out of it, Parnell, again looking bereft of variety or all-important swing in his once abundant case, was unceremoniously lashed for 85 runs in nine overs, the most expensive analysis in a World Cup by any South African.

It was felt – and certainly by this writer – even before CWC 2015 began that the Proteas have nine-tenths or so of a truly formidable side, but that their reserve arsenal in the 15-man broader squad is shrouded in uncertainty.

Because of that, it is doubtful that they can greatly inject fresh, meaningful adrenaline into the current brew.

Parnell may well be lucky to sniff another appearance at the event after his MCG misery, but Vernon Philander’s hamstring problem might also be his dubious lifeline to onward service.

Not helping is that various established big guns are yet to fire properly; if such figures can get into the groove toward the business end the South Africans will automatically look a much revitalised unit.

This World Cup has some 35 days to go. Expect the expected, but also not inconsiderable doses of the unexpected.

Can the Proteas get back on a roll? Of course they can, even if it looks more and more as though it might have to happen with one or two passengers tagging along for the ride.

Forgive them Sunday’s near-debacle; they don’t experience them often.

Tell you what, though, a bit of squeaky-bum time will be infinitely more merited if they crash again to humdrum West Indies next time out ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  cwc 2015  |  ab de villiers  |  hashim amla  |  cricket

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