Supporters share the Proteas’ pain
It is time for South African cricket to have a group hug. The players, led by T20 captain Faf du Plessis, have taken responsibility for the inadequacy of their performance at the T20 World Cup in India and have made no excuses for their failure to even reach the semifinals. Not that there were any to be made.
Supporters can be as disappointed as they like, angry even. They pay their money and that is their right. Like it or not, the players and coaching team have to accept that criticism is part of the job and, provided it does not descend into personal abuse, it is legitimate.
But like any grieving family, information and answers to pertinent questions always help the recovery process. When AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn explained, in detail, the thinking and strategy behind bowling the “length” delivery, which Grant Elliott hit for six in the final over of the World Cup semifinal against New Zealand a year ago, it helped ease the pain. A bit.
Presumably it was the same logic that saw Kagiso Rabada bowl another length delivery in the final over of the do-or-die match against the West Indies – which was also hit for six. Two similar deliveries, two exits from World Cups.
But that wasn’t where the tournament went wrong. Rabada already has a fabulous record bowling at the death and will get better and better.
Failing to defend a monster total of 229 against England was embarrassing. Doing so in such hapless fashion was unforgiveable.
What makes it even more galling was the emphasis head coach Russell Domingo placed on “doing the basics right”. They included, presumably, not bowling wides, never
mind 20 of them in a single innings.
Just as politicians are required to answer to parliamentary commissions for questionable decisions or behaviour, captains and coaches deserve the chance to justify their actions to those they have let down.
Is fast bowling coach Charl Langeveldt responsible for the wides? Certainly not, unless he issued an abstract instruction to change grip. But, if he is not to be judged by the performances of those under his guidance, how is he to be measured?
What were the tactics when England’s openers made an outlandishly fast start? Or when Joe Root was masterminding the middle overs and then accelerating towards the most unlikely of targets? Did Du Plessis or any of his senior players suggest a change of tactic, something to distract the batsmen? Sometimes a runaway train can’t be stopped by conventional means. An over of wide yorkers with six or even seven fielders on the off side? Crazy, of course – but it would have required some extraordinary stroke play to hit boundaries with 12 an over required.
Or perhaps the individual skill levels are simply not high enough. That would be the most depressing conclusion. Being outsmarted by the opposition, or picking the wrong option from two or three legitimate options is fair enough. Shit happens. But, if the right options were chosen and the bowlers were simply unable to land the ball in the right area, as well as the batsmen being unable to deal with the slow, spinning conditions in Nagpur (again), that would be a real concern.
Cricket is a bit like wine in that it attracts plenty of snobbery. Dare to offer an opinion on an expensive cabernet that differs from convention and be prepared for scorn. Even worse, rave about the value-for-money qualities of a cheap chenin and drink it with derision. But stick to your opinion because it has merit. Don’t listen when the “experts” say: “What would you know?”
The majority of professional cricketers do not have an easy life, never mind a life of luxury. They spend a long time away from home, train hard and are destined to fail far more than they succeed on an individual level. So when fat blokes and housewives call them “useless”, it hurts. Especially because they are not useless and are trying very hard. Their failure hurts them, too.
At the same time, the fat blokes and housewives see what they see and feel what they feel, which makes it real. As real as the 20 wides and as real as the wine which makes no difference to their palate because of its price tag. It is okay, for example, to point out that the Meerlust Rubicon of batsmen, AB de Villiers, failed to produce an innings of substance when his team really needed him in the last-chance saloon against the West Indies. The man himself would expect nothing less.
There are no public inquiries into sporting performance, so these questions need not be answered. Not publicly, anyway. But they should be asked – and answered as honestly as possible – when the squad, selectors and administrators conduct their own debrief in the coming days. We assume they will be doing that. It might even benefit them if they shared some of the answers, although they are not bound to.
So hopefully that hug happens sometime soon because everyone knows they are the only team South African cricket lovers have and they know the importance of their supporters. Unless they really are going to be satisfied with turning their attention and affection towards the progress of the Gujarat Lions in the Indian Premier League over the next seven weeks. Or even Rising Pune Super Giants.
Don’t laugh. Body language: Proteas captain Faf du Plessis and Chris Morris leave the field after the loss to the West Indies. Photo: Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Gallo Images