Cape Town - Slog and hope.
That was the description - probably endorsed by many disgruntled Proteas enthusiasts - from former national captain Kepler Wessels of South Africa’s strategy during their feeble innings in the lone Twenty20 international against Sri Lanka in Colombo on Tuesday.
Under the acting charge of JP Duminy, they were routed for their lowest ever T20 total of 98 all out in 16.4 overs in the tour closer, only clawing back a modicum of credibility through a gutsy bowling and fielding showing that made the almost inevitable defeat a tighter one (by three wickets) than might have been expected.
But the result still meant that the Proteas, courtesy of a lackadaisical, frankly unprofessional last few days in the country, left it nursing three defeats in a row, including both dead-rubber one-day internationals.
The sequence took a lot of the shine off their prior strides in romping to early ODI series success, having won all of the first three contests in that environment after the trauma that had been the Test portion of the venture.
Instead the Proteas will return home shrouded in a certain sense of renewed fragility ... and more especially in relation to their desperately rickety batting across the formats.
Already the recipient of increasingly harsh barbs on social media and in some sectors of the cricket press, the assistant to Ottis Gibson in charge of that department, Dale Benkenstein, will undoubtedly enter the domestic summer under mounting pressure to confirm his worth with some urgency, even if it is also true that the batting coach can’t get out to the middle to strike centuries.
On Tuesday, with a “Harry Casual” spirit alarmingly too prevalent in the ranks, the Proteas set their T20 bar to a new low at the crease, worsening their 2013 nadir of 100 all out against Pakistan at Centurion.
At least on that occasion they had the excuse of registering that total in pursuit of a stiff target of 196; here they were batting first after winning the toss on what could not be described as a treacherous pitch against either the spin or seam trade.
The first sign of complacency, really, was in South Africa’s team selection.
In spite of mounting signs during the tour as a whole that even the frontline batting currently inspires little confidence, and is highly susceptible to “mystery” spin, the bright sparks - whoever they were, and maybe to varying degrees of conviction? - opted for a line-up that sported a serious dearth of proven resolve and statistical delivery below the No 6 spot.
Yes, Andile Phehlukwayo, very much a work in progress who has actually regressed at both his all-round roles over the last few weeks, too, was dubiously entrusted with the No 7 berth, and followed in the order by a bushy plethora of out-and-out bowlers.
It meant that the Proteas were going to be in a fine old pickle if the main stroke-playing figures failed … and hey presto, that was precisely what transpired.
Phehlukwayo found himself taking guard at 69 for five after only 10.1 overs, and instead of embracing the opportunity to show his worth - including some hoped-for gumption and fight - he brazenly tried a third-ball reverse sweep to wily Lakshan Sandakan and was bowled in ungainly fashion.
But it would also be so wrong to single out the young bowling all-rounder for special criticism: several more heavyweight batting customers above him also succumbed in hare-brained, overly cavalier fashion on a really bad night in overall batting terms for the proverbial honour of the badge.
“They were very reckless today,” opined Shaun Pollock, a more recent leader of the troops than TV commentary colleague Wessels, economically but still aptly.
The older, crustier Wessels, however, a top-order batsman legendary for his dogged devotion to bedding down at the crease in his heyday, got more animated over the procession - and often at times when recovery prospects still flickered quite invitingly - of wickets.
“This South African performance is one of slog and hope for the best,” he said.
“There is no structure to the performance whatsoever; very little thinking went into it. It’s been very, very poor ... they haven’t had the intensity you would expect.
“The default setting, when not picking the wrist spin, is just to sweep all (the time).”
South Africa’s batting suffered similar, continual frailties on an infamous Test tour of India in 2015, and the mental after-effects were prolonged: the jitters spilled over to various levels of assignments against other countries.
The only bright aspect about this latest, sometimes ordeal in Subcontinent conditions is that Zimbabwe are the next -- and with respect, extremely modest - foes for SA on the limited-overs roster.
It will be a sumptuous chance for certain Proteas batsmen to fill their boots again, though you also have to hope in some earnest that they and their mentors are not in denial about the depth of the present problems against more challenging attacks ...
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