The competition has now reached a stage where the Proteas know exactly what is required of them. There can be no more poor performances. This is the time that this team will be forever be judged on.
The loss to Pakistan was unfortunate and that is being really kind. Everyone in the cricketing world knows that Pakistan can be a dangerous team when given a sniff. The Proteas allowed them to stay in the game and then succumbed meekly to pressure. Sadly, it came at a time when they least needed it.
The criticism metered out by many included poor shot selection and not delivering the goods in key moments of the match.
The win over UAE was never in doubt. It was always a question of by how much. If the Proteas decided to play the physiotherapist and the baggage master they would still have had the beating of the UAE. Which of course begs two questions. Firstly, could they not have found a game for poor Aaron Phangiso to have a run against the weakest team in the competition or was he always going to be just a drinks-carrier, and secondly, does it really matter how well a fringe player did against them. They were of no standard to start using the performances as a yardstick going forward and it would be creating a false sense of security.
To win the World Cup means AB de Villiers and his team need to win just four matches in a row. Just four. Forget about who they are playing. They need to take each game on its own and win it. No looking ahead of themselves, just one bite at a time.
What I keep reading and hearing is AB saying they are the best team in the World Cup. I like his belief in the team but my advice would be to keep that kind of talk to the change-room and to close mates. This isn’t a time to be bragging. It places unnecessary pressure on everyone and especially when his team has really only got through to the quarter-finals by beating Zimbabwe, UAE, Ireland and the West Indies. None of them rank in the top echelon of ODI teams in world cricket right now and the two games they did play against meaningful opponents they got beaten. So the less said the better.
However, having said that, I share his sentiments that on the day, if his team fires properly, they are a hard team to beat. But that comes with the proviso of “if we fire on the day”.
Up until now the opening spot of Quinton de Kock and the number seven spot have caused sleepless nights for the Proteas management. Both of those areas unfortunately are absolutely critically important pillars in any team. Quinton has now surely visited the last-chance saloon and will now be packed away to carry drinks for the rest of the tournament. His emotional pain will be immense and will take some serious working with to overcome this period of his career.
As far as the number seven slot is concerned, Berhardien scored runs against UAE and in fact played some really great shots. Much like he does so regularly for the Titans. But unfortunately, whether one likes to hear it or not, in previous times he has yet to deliver when it has been needed by the team with both the bat and ball. Now I know he has many supporters out there and none more so that his own captain from the same Titans. But I’m battling to have a heap of belief if he has to do it under pressure in the Final to win us the World Cup!
The team selected for the next game just has to be the one you are going with throughout the rest of the tournament unless of course there is a serious injury or a major shift in tactics.
My thinking is this. Hashim Amla and Riley Rossouw to open with Faf du Plessis, David Millar and AB de Villiers next. JP Duminy at six and Vernon Philander at seven. Eight to eleven is Kyle Abbot, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir.
I have kept AB de Villiers at five and slotted Millar in at four to keep a left-right combination going and with AB de Villiers to keep wicket he probably needs more rest-time if we do bat second. The use of Vernon Philander at seven may look interesting but it solves the extra bowler problem if someone pulls up lame or if there is some juice around in the pitch. Moreover, he isn’t that bad with the bat. Let us not forget that he averages 27 in Test cricket which indicates he can certainly bat. In ODI cricket he has batted down the order and more often than not bats in the slog overs.
Thus far in the tournament it has been a trend that fast and secure starts immediately give a team one huge advantage and the likes of New Zealand and Sri Lanka have benefitted hugely from that. Losing a few wickets in the first 15 overs slows the batting team down tremendously and creates immense pressure. We need to start doing that. Imran Tahir in the middle overs has been a revelation and I believe will continue to be. If the pitch turns JP Duminy can play a role too.
In my opinion we have the bowling side to get wickets. It is about how well they are utilized and what the strategy is. Against Pakistan AB de Villiers got it wrong by bowling spin too early. I can understand why because his thinking is that he needs to keep Dale Steyn in the pocket for later on. It’s because he isn’t sure that his fifth and sixth bowler can do a holding job every time. His mindset is to get through as many of the weakest bowlers as early as possible. The opposite of that is to just rather get wickets because nowadays even the best bowler more often than not goes the distance at the back-end of an innings if top batsmen are well-set. It is a subtle mindset change but a necessary one I believe. Up until now the current strategy hasn’t worked that well.
With Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Kyle Abbot bowling at 145km/h with some bounce and swing and Vernon Philander nagging away on a length and then Imran Tahir bowling as he has been, any side will need to bat really well in any conditions to post and ungettable score. Throw in some outstanding fielding and we are right in the box seat. But, I still would want to tell anybody that…