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After early exit from Cricket World Cup, South Africa face a rainbow crisis

This lack of high run-scoring has been a problem-area for the Proteas for quite some time now.

ET CONTRIBUTORS|
Jun 24, 2019, 11.46 PM IST
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If 300 is the new par-score in ODIs in this modern age, the Proteas simply don’t adhere to that definition – they have crossed this mark once in seven games this summer.
By Chetan Narula

Since the 2017 Champions Trophy, England have scored 300-plus in 19 ODIs. India have breached the mark 13 times, Australia 11, Pakistan 10, West Indies 9, New Zealand 8 and Sri Lanka 7. Among the teams participating in this 2019 World Cup, South Africa are among lowest category with six instances of crossing 300. Considering all 10 teams in this tournament, only Bangladesh (5) and Afghanistan (2) have a worse record.

This is a good enough starting point to describe why South African have fallen to their lowest point in ICC tournaments, ousted in the group stage for the first time since 2003. If 300 is the new par-score in ODIs in this modern age, the Proteas simply don’t adhere to that definition – they have crossed this mark once in seven games this summer. “It is just pure numbers on the board. Batsmen getting the runs they should. If you look at the opposition, they have scored big runs. And if you compare our batting line-up, it doesn’t stack up well,” lamented skipper Faf du Plessis after losing to New Zealand in Birmingham.

This lack of high run-scoring has been a problem-area for the Proteas for quite some time now. That they didn’t recognise the symptoms and treat them accordingly is the root cause of their problems.

The Proteas’ build-up to this World Cup began almost 18 months ago, with India’s tour of South Africa. The hosts lost 5-1 in the ODIs – India’s top-two scorers in that series were Virat Kohli (558 runs) and Shikhar Dhawan (323 runs). Hashim Amla (154 runs) was the top scorer for the hosts. It was a cycle of poor form that didn’t really stop all year, and in the buildup to this World Cup.

Amla, through 2018, managed only 315 runs in 11 ODIs – he was sixth in South Africa’s top run-scorers’ list for that year. Top of the charts was du Plessis, with 434 runs in eight matches, but his total pales in comparison to runs notched up across the world. Kohli scored 1202 in 14 matches, Rohit Sharma 1030 in 19 matches, and Jonny Bairstow 1025 in 22 matches. Du Plessis was placed 34th in 2018’s top runs’ list – yes, he was laid low by injury too. In that light, David Miller who played 12 ODIs in 2018 (comparable to that of Kohli’s) managed only 384 runs all year – 43rd in the list.

AB de Villiers’ retirement last year didn’t help the matter at all. And then, the revelation of his comeback bid before the World Cup squad was announced provided another angle to this saga. In his absence, and the general lack of form of other batsmen, South Africa just didn’t have the adventurism needed to score big in today’s whiteball cricket.

“They needed courageous cricket, needed to be flamboyant and play their shots. But our batsmen were conservative. Look at New Zealand, or England, or India. These sides do it well. These teams get good starts and build on that, and it’s been lacking in our cricket,” Andrew Hudson, former South Africa captain, said on SABC Radio.

When runs dry up, bowlers come into the fray. This was probably South Africa’s weakest batting line-up in decades. But they still boasted Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi in their pace attack, bolstered by Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi, only the second team apart from India to boast two wrist spinners in their squad. Fatigue and injuries put paid to that perceived strength.

“It is perhaps the biggest blow to South African hopes of winning this World Cup. Dale will be absolutely shattered knowing that this was his last chance,” Jacques Kallis, former South African all-rounder, had said a day after Steyn’s shoulder injury ruled him out of the tournament.

Du Plessis blamed Steyn’s short Indian Premier League (IPL) stint with Royal Challengers Bangalore for the injury. After exiting this tournament, he blamed Rabada’s fatigue on his IPL stint with Delhi Daredevils. Ngidi has always had fitness issues and had missed the IPL, otherwise who knows what Faf might have said there.

Australian and English cricketers returned from the 2019 IPL on May 1. South Africans, du Plessis (who plays for Chennai Super Kings) included, did not. Just whom do you blame here then — Cricket South Africa, who couldn’t negotiate better with their contracted players, or the cricketers themselves, who didn’t show a moral approach to this matter?

The bigger question to ask is, just how do you go about resurrecting South African cricket at this juncture? “Some will demand everything is changed but a total clean out is just not the way ahead, we need to be more considered and thoughtful. The first thing that needs to be looked at is the brand of cricket South Africa are playing and all the players will want to be part of that conversation,” wrote Kallis in his ICC column, hinting at inspiration from the way England transformed their ODI team since failure in the 2015 World Cup.

Here too, the Proteas face a challenge. Kolpak agreements today are the single biggest threat to the game in South Africa, with quite a few promising players moving to English counties in search of better money and opportunities.

Where do the Proteas even begin to undo this mess? ‘Embarrassing’ is how du Plessis described their World Cup exit. He might as well have been talking about the general state of cricket in South Africa.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)

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