SA's big scare

The warm-up game against Western Province on Saturday should have been a walkover for a team expected to make the finals of the World Cup, if not win it. But the walkover went the other way, which does not bode well for next week.

Reigning Standard Bank Cup champions Western Province murdered the South African XI by seven wickets, despite the star-studded lineup of the national team, and coach Eric Simons’s assertion that the team were “a little rusty” does not explain just what the cricketers have been doing for the last few weeks.
We’ve seen all sorts of grand footage of them doing mini-eco challenges, and heard all about how their mental attitude has toughened, and then this. I’m stumped.

South Africa batted first, and in their allotted 40 overs could only make 155 runs in 38,5 overs, which is less than four runs to the over. Pollock top-scored with 26 runs—a towering total bound to get the Aussies quaking. The best batsman—scoring 13* off only 12 balls—was none other than tailender Makhaya Ntini, whose contribution no doubt seriously boosted the score.

The bowling fared even worse, with Klusener and Peterson going for sixty runs off six overs between them. The target was reached by Western Province in only 30 overs, and for the loss of only three wickets (one of them a runout).

Which means that the South Africans managed 155 runs between them (or just 15 runs per wicket), and took only two wickets by bowlers (at an average of 78). Now is it just me, or does something Not Add Up here?

And after it all Captain Polly gave the players a tongue-lashing, which no doubt consisted of vile, horrible words like “Upset”, “Peeved” and “Distraught”. And to add insult to injury, this is how Eric Simons attempted to explain it, as reported on SuperCricket: “When we finished the warm up before the game yesterday I honestly did not think that there was any complacency in the side,” said Simons. “But perhaps there was some complacency after having played so well up until now. Coupled to that was that the players were rusty. Also, you have to give Province credit. They were highly motivated and played really well.”

Bully for Province. What about the national team? The one about to play the most important tournament of their cricketing lives? What about their much-vaunted motivation, and newly acquired Mental Toughness? Which the UCB no doubt forked out thousands for, laying on the corporate cheese and hollow psychiatry.

It’s disgusting, man, and now I’m Upset. If complacency was a problem, how can we expect their mindset to be anything different when playing smaller nations? Should we be preparing ourselves to lose to Canada?

Maybe I’m getting too upset here, but let me explain: the only concern I have had for the last year now—the Only concern—has been the mental side of the South Africans’ game. The talent, skill, passion and willpower are all there, but none of these will count a jot if they break down under immense mental pressure. And we all know the folks from across the ocean who are specialists in mentally dominating opponents, with the historical statistics to prove it.

It was my sincere hope that measures would have been put in place after the disastrous Aussie tours of last year to counteract the mental challenge they pose. I was skeptical when presented with all the lovely graphics of Polly shouldering logs like any good ol’ Knysna boy, as I would think that the best preparation for something like the World Cup would involve more cricketing skills, and not necessarily backwoods yobbo skills. But maybe that’s just me.

What’s not just me, however, is the fact that mental discipline appears to still be a problem, and if it is then we can kiss the home World Cup goodbye. The side that can mentally dominate Australia this World Cup is going to win it, and on the evidence at hand that is not going to be South Africa. The Aussies fold like a deck of cards if you get on top of them and stay there, which New Zealand did so effectively against them in the VB Series in 01/02.

Maybe I’m reading too much into all this—maybe the complacency was simply because they knew it was not a World Cup game. But in such a situation I would put all my new-found confidence into totally killing the Province side, as preparation for the real thing.

Polly’s squad gets another crack at a Western Cape team when they take on Boland today (Tuesday 04/03) at Paarl. Of the national squad, four—Makhaya Ntini, Lance Klusener, Robin Peterson and Charl Langeveldt—will play for Boland.

Hopefully the team will have got themselves together for this game, as they need to use it (and their last one) to really pile on the class. Failure to do so will leave nagging little doubts going into the World Cup next week, and those they can do without.

Kill them. It’s the right thing to do.

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