The Proteas have now settled into the tournament and looking back at the loss to India when they were like rabbits in the headlights, it perhaps wasn’t a bad thing to happen. Since then they seem to have galvanized into a motivated team and have tweaked a few things that were probably part of plan A.
Suddenly Dale Steyn looks like he has found some rhythm and it makes a huge difference. He leads the attack as the premier fast bowler in the world right now and when he is on song, batsmen don’t take anything for granted.
The batting has come good and except for Quinton de Kock, looks settled. When Faf du Plessis is in form it creates even more stability and that’s what AB de Villiers, Riley Rossouw and David Miller need to have as a platform going into the back-end of an innings.
The changes that were made were largely forced on the team through injuries. Vernon Philander and JP Duminy had no option but to sit out and give Rossouw and Kyle Abbot an opportunity. They have both put their hands up and now find themselves in the box seat. Kyle Abbot just looks so comfortable in his work that despite Philander being an outstanding bowler, and in Test cricket it’s undisputable, I would not revert back to him immediately and would keep Abbot in the mix.
The million dollar question to be answered is still out there though. Who fills the number 7 spot going forward? It can easily be solved by shifting young de Kock down the order and slotting Rossouw or Faf du Plessis into the opener slot with Hashim Amla. I would resist that. It tampers with things that are working and that is critical right now.
JP Duminy had good form in the earlier games and with him able to bowl as many overs as what Berhardien is going to ever bowl, the logical option is to get him back into the team at number seven. He is a far more accomplished batsmen with experience to close out a game when it gets tight.
The dilemma concerning the form of Quinton de Kock is one that has been around the game forever. How long do you wait for him to come good? Do you keep backing in the hope it will change or do you move onto someone else?
Well up until the start of the tournament he was the bright star and everyone was raving about his ability. All of a sudden I hear calls to drop him. Cricket is a funny old game. Sometimes it just needs a bit of luck to go your way for things to suddenly turn. A dropped catch or a decision that goes your way can mean all the difference. My gut feel says keep going with him and trust in his ability. He is talented and when he is on song, the entire batting line-up suddenly becomes super-potent. Dropping him means AB de Villiers will need to take the gloves and that is a really big ask. Captaining the side and batting as he does, is tough enough.
It was so interesting to see Mike Hussey doing some consulting work for the Proteas. Times have certainly changed. I just cannot imagine the Aussie players of the nineties like Steve Waugh, Shane Warne, Mark Taylor and a few others, signing up to help South Africa in a World Cup. Perhaps the IPL has broken down some barriers. I was asked to possibly assist a team too and really grappled with the idea. Somehow deep down I’m not sure that I am in a space that would like to see our Proteas beaten by a team I had a hand in, especially in a World Cup. But then again, if it’s cash you are after or perhaps getting into the coaching mix outside of your country it is an option.
The next game against Pakistan is another important hurdle. Playing against Pakistan has its own challenges. One never knows what team is going to pitch up on the day. So often they self-destruct under pressure but every now and then they produce periods of brilliance and can beat anyone. The key is to do the basics right against them. Make sure there is a relentless pressurized environment in every facet of play right from the start and keep it that way until the last ball.
Watching Hashim Amla bat and becoming the fastest batsman in ODI cricket to get 20 centuries, led me to think of a chat I had with him at Kingsmead a few years ago. He was dropped from the one-day team and was told that he was just not a one-day player and that he should concentrate on Test cricket. He was bitterly disappointed at the time and we chewed some fat over the whole thing. To see him prove that theory wrong is so pleasing. What an iconic player he is and a role-model professional. He deserves every accolade that comes his way.