Performance not commensurate with their talent

AB de Villiers… waging a lone battle for South Africa.-AP

Given their current form, winning the World Cup seems a real climb for South Africa, writes W. V. Raman.

The South Africans came into this World Cup with a lot of confidence and were seen as favourites to win the title, but their showing, especially while chasing, has not really added credence to that view. They lost by a huge margin to India while attempting to chase 308 for victory which was acceptable considering they were chasing a big target. However, against Pakistan, they had a good chance to make amends and revive their confidence, but the Pakistanis were able to restrict the Proteas. That the Duckworth-Lewis method came into play is another matter, but the South Africans never stepped on the pedal at any stage.

The failure against India can be seen as an off day, but to lose a game while chasing a modest target does raise a lot of questions. It does not augur well for a team that has come into the World Cup with high hopes. In addition, it does convey an impression that the South Africans are still wobbly in a big tournament when under pressure.

Now the question doing the rounds is whether they have the resources to fulfill their ambition. The South African captain, AB de Villiers, was obviously miffed with the hara-kiri committed by his players against Pakistan. His open remarks about his batsmen messing up the chase does very little to instil confidence in his players. Of course, not everyone can be as versatile and clear-headed as de Villiers, but a captain needs to back his team in adversity.

As it is, the South Africans are tired, even annoyed, with the tag of “chokers”, but they have not done anything to make their followers think otherwise. In the past, they have been clinical with their cricket in the league stage of the World Cup, and only lost their way in the knockout phase. But in the current edition, they are faltering in the league stage itself.

Their batting looks strong and explosive on paper, but they have not really had contributions from the top-order batsmen. Hashim Amla has notched up a century, but he has not really got going as well as he would have hoped to. Quinton de Kock is finding the going hard, while David Miller has not lived up to his promise. At the moment, de Villiers is waging a lone battle of sorts and he needs to be relieved of some pressure.

Apart from their batting woes, South Africa’s bowling is loaded with pace bowlers. Imran Tahir has done extremely well all right, but he needs another spinner to work in tandem. This is where India is well served, as Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja make a good spinning partnership. Jean-Paul Duminy is filling in with his off-spin, but in the advanced stage of the tournament, whether he will be effective enough is another poser for the South Africans. They should get through to the knockout stage despite their current struggles, but somehow they need to get their bearings right to make a real big impact.

De Villiers has even taken up to rolling his arm over, but his big challenge is in reviving the flagging spirit of his talented team. His versatility is not in question, but he needs to show that he is a good leader. He has the onerous task of inspiring his batsmen and finding solutions quickly to all his team’s problems.

Sometimes a few setbacks at this stage of the tournament might prove to be beneficial, as a team can bounce back learning from the mistakes made. But the key for South Africa is in ensuring that they find the recipe to play at their best rather quickly, failing which they will end up in disappointment. Making the knockout is not what South Africa are looking at, but winning the title seems a real climb for them given their current form.