World Cup isn't lost with one defeat

South Africa’s narrow six-run defeat against England last weekend has had many jumping on the “choking” bandwagon and writing off the Proteas’ chances of winning the World Cup.

South African fans can be excused for feeling especially sensitive during World Cup time, given all the heartbreak and excruciating defeats that have gone before. But to write off their team after just one defeat really is being too hasty.

If Graeme Smith’s men see off India in Nagpur on Saturday then there is still a very good chance they will top Group B—and you can’t do any better than that.

Has the defeat, caused by a stunning collapse of seven wickets for 41 runs on a rapidly deteriorating pitch, irreparably damaged the team psyche? Will they be unable to get across the line if they are involved in another close ­finish in the World Cup?

Henning Gericke, the team’s mental conditioning coach and a World Cup winner with the Springbok rugby team in 2007, says they will be just fine. “The mood in the team is still very positive. We had an excellent meeting where we all spoke about what happened, everyone was very honest and the team is determined not to make any excuses but also to take the positives out of that experience,” Gericke said.

The England defeat may have looked like some of those previous World Cup disasters, but it was very different—just as a cricket ball is very different from an apple.

Long way to run
First, the World Cup still has a long way to run and South Africa will have other tough obstacles waiting for them. For instance India on Saturday: victory in Nagpur will more than atone for last weekend’s slip-up.

The defeat has in no way derailed South Africa’s campaign. In fact, finishing first in the group might no longer be the advantage everyone thought it would be, given the difficulty in predicting who will finish at the front of the queue in Group A.

At some stage South African fans are going to have to live with the fact that opposition teams are just as skilful and hungry as ours and they will win games against us.

England’s discipline with the ball was exemplary and they bowled some excellent deliveries to get the likes of Smith, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy and Dale Steyn out. Never mind the extremely quick reflexes of Ian Bell at short-leg to run out Faf du Plessis.

The team have been quick to put the disappointment behind them and focus on the positives. Fast bowler Morné Morkel said: “We’ve had a couple of days to reflect on it and it’s not the end of the world. It was one bad game, the margin was very small and it could have gone either way.

“So we’re dusting ourselves off and focusing on the next challenge. We’re not going to be focusing on outside pressures. People have been saying a lot of things about us, but we have strong team values and our management back us all the way. We’ll take the blow on the chin and hopefully set things right on Saturday.”

Wicketkeeper/batsman Morné van Wyk, who so nearly took South Africa home, said the whole Chennai experience would be good preparation for later in the tournament.

Batsman’s pitch
“All the other pitches we’ve played on have been very good, so now we’ve got that experience of a bad wicket under our belt.

“As all the World Cup grounds have more games played on them, we definitely expect the pitches to become more and more like that Chennai one,” Van Wyk said.

The match against India will almost certainly be played on a batsman’s pitch, simply because that will be what the massive television audience appreciate.

South Africa need to decide whether a pace-based or spin attack will be more effective on a flat deck against one of the finest batting line-ups in the competition. The likelihood of dew in the evening is another consideration.

Leg-spinner Imran Tahir will surely be resting his fractured left thumb, so there will be a place available. Do South Africa replace Tahir with another off-spinner in Johan Botha—he will be effective against left-handers Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh—or will Lonwabo Tsotsobe be making his long-awaited World Cup debut?

South Africa will also be considering whether to play an extra bowler in the batting friendly conditions, meaning Van Wyk could step down, depending on whether De Villiers’s stiff back has improved enough for him to keep wicket.

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