When a plane crashes, you go to the black box for answers.
As I have been onboard with them from the start, let’s consider this article South Africa’s black box then, the answers to why things failed again for them in an ICC event, and the information needed to perhaps prevent another disaster from happening in the future.
Two things mainly stick out — the leadership and the bowling. I had high hopes for Faf du Plessis going into this tournament both with the bat and as an astute captain. I thought he will use his knowledge of Indian conditions to get the most from his team.
He did neither really, and such were his failings that I’m wondering where I ever acquired the original hope from…
The Proteas often talk of a ‘leadership group’, and how the responsibilities of taking charge of this team (in all formats) are shared and therefore expanded etc., etc. I think this is a major copout though, and perhaps something of a defensive measure put in place by the team after having to deal with many a disaster in the past.
So Du Plessis may not be totally to blame here but as a captain you need to be accountable, so you have to ask the following questions of Faf; where were the bold decisions, where was the innovation, the out of the box steps needed in T20?!
Every batting team knew when playing against South Africa that they would get pace up front, spin in the middle and then some more pace at the death, with more length balls than yorkers coming their way. Why was spin not used more intelligently? The tournament was being played in India after all!
Where were the proactive field placements to make the batsmen think? I know T20 is often about damage control when the opposition batsmen get going, but when that seems like the only strategy, you have to just throw your hands up in the air.
The AB de Villiers issue also needs to be addressed. Faf was all about AB opening in India but not picking Hashim Amla and Quinton De Kock was then seen as a really stupid idea, so AB then dropped down and didn’t open once. So where does the player ‘that needs to face as many balls as possible’ then bat? No.3 right? I mean that’s how numbers work, you go 1-2 and then 3. During SA vs Afghanistan, AB came in at No. 4. In SA vs West Indies, AB emerged at 5!
Rigidity and inconsistency in all the wrong places; it was very confusing throughout and as a result South Africa always looked like they were chasing the game.
Onto the bowling. Even after rolling Sri Lanka out for 120 in their final (pointless) match, nobody in the Proteas’ setup seems any the wiser on what the best bowling line-up is.
Prior to the tournament you had Imran Tahir and Kagiso Rabada as the set-in-stone selections; then there was just a lot of hope. Hope that Dale Steyn would be fit, hope that David Wiese’s variations could do something on the Indian surfaces, and hope that Chris Morris could simply hit the pitch in pressure situations.
Among all this hope there seemed to be little faith in a player who is genuinely a consistent seamer. Kyle Abbott. He seems like the unpopular pick in this team, and often gets left out when push comes to shove.
In hindsight it was very clear that you either pick Morris or Wiese, not both. Then Aaron Phangiso should have played every match in partnership with Tahir.
So much is made of conditions but you don’t always have to have a spinning deck to play a second spinner. Especially as a T20 opening option, an accurate spinner can bring an element of the unexpected with the new ball, get a bit of extra bounce, get one to skid through, and most importantly, always make the batsman create the pace.
Why and how was this a mystery to a top international team?
South Africa bowled the most wides in the Super 10 phase with 36! Only England was the other team with more than 20 (25).
In a game where small margins mean everything, 36 extra balls (and runs) is simply embarrassing, and if I had the stat on the runs that those extra balls led to, I would probably stop writing right about here and join a handball team.
Losing JP Duminy was a shame, but still, better planning would have seen the 5-bowler core being Rabada, Abbott, Morris/Wiese, Tahir and Phangiso. One of the seamers could have fallen away if Duminy was fit, or Farhaan Behardien’s medium pace was backed, but that should have been the core.
After the win over Sri Lanka, Faf said he was baffled by this whole tournament, and you can see how he felt a little hard done by in places.
None of that means anything though. This happens every time with the Proteas, but the ‘hoping’ that things turn out right are just not good enough. Look at how New Zealand went into the tournament willing to try anything to get success. They are 4 from 4 and still haven’t picked Tim Southee or Trent Bolt.
Look at how Afghanistan played to the few strengths they have, and strangled the West Indies into submission. There was evidence throughout this tournament how there is still a lot of control to be had in a supposed ‘game of chance’.
Unfortunately the Proteas just don’t have the balls to do what is needed to take control. Their fear of failure is still their biggest handicap, and so strong it is, all they can do is fail.
With recognising this dark reality though, comes the brightest light.
They are at rock bottom, now is the time to change things up, and with a new era of South African cricket, they can only go up from here.
Now to just accept the above, and be strong enough to boldly usher in a new direction that needs to be taken.