What is really wrong with Proteas?

HARARE - South African sports teams, due to the country’s proximity to Zimbabwe, have a huge following in this country.

Their cricket side, the Proteas, exudes a combination of confidence, ruthlessness, talent and ability which at times is close to brilliance.

But take them to an International Cricket Council (ICC) event, and you see this super-talented unit stumble and fall at the most crucial stage of a World Cup, be it 50-over or T20 cricket.

On more than one occasion, a South African team has gone to a World Cup, ranked as favourites and whenever this has happened, they have never failed to disappoint their faithful supporters back home.

This year was no different as once again they breezed through the first round with comprehensive victories against Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe before losing all their matches in the Super Eight stage of the tournament.

One of the problems that South Africa had before they even set foot on Sri Lankan soil was the inconsistency of their top order with Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Faf du Plessis and one-hit wonder Richard Levi opening the batting at some stage.

Although coach Gary Kirsten was trying out various combinations, there is no doubt the constant shuffling and reshuffling of the batting order would have played havoc on the minds of even a vastly-experienced team such as the Proteas.

Key players such as Kallis and captain AB de Villiers were batting anywhere between numbers three and seven, which clearly did the team no good.

The difference between the South African Test side and to a lesser extent ODI side is that they have a very settled look about them with the top and middle order well intact.

You will find that the four semifinalists have no such problems and have therefore qualified.

There are some who say that South Africa could have picked a better team for the ICC World Twenty20, though it has to be said that these comments were made after South Africa were beaten by Pakistan and Australia in the Super Eight stage.

One of the questions that were however asked well before the start of the World Cup was whether Levi’s inclusion was justifiable given the fact that he never scored any runs after his 117 not out against New Zealand in February.

He played in the Indian Premier League and let the Mumbai Indians down badly with a string of poor performances, and he did not exactly impress when he toured Zimbabwe earlier this year either. Yet, he was selected and the decision backfired horribly.

Another letdown was the fact that the Proteas prolific run machine Amla seemed to struggle with the conditions in Sri Lanka, which would have disappointed fans around the world, let alone the South African fans.

Amla had been in the form of his life, leading up to the event, but the softer and slower pitches of Sri Lanka sadly got the better of him with his only score of significance being the unbeaten 32 against Zimbabwe. But why is it that this tag of South Africa being chokers comes to life at important events such as World Cups?

In 1999, they were regarded as firm favourites and looked well on course to win the 50-over World Cup in England before coming horribly unstuck in the dreaded semifinal against Australia that sent them crashing out of the event.

History repeated itself when the firmly-ranked favourites had a panic attack in a rain-affected match against Sri Lanka which saw them lose by one run in front of a disbelieving crowd in Durban.

So the South African faithful and players will once again have to wait for another two years in which time they would probably once again have reclaimed the status of the world’s best team and would therefore yet again be ranked as favourites to win a World Cup, which continues to give fans and players alike many sleepless nights. - Dean du Plessis

*Daily News cricket writer and blogger Dean du Plessis has followed South African cricket since 1991.


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