A pall o f gloom de­scends o ver crick et

The Proteas have much to do if they are to be se­ri­ous World Cup con­tenders, writes RAY WHITE

Weekend Witness - - Spor T -

AB de Vil­liers may be for­given his in­ju­di­cious r emarks about his t eam’s per­for­mance in the los­ing ODI serie s in Aus­tralia. As capt ain of the squad he prob­a­bly feels bound to put a positi ve spin on an ything he sa ys ahead of the loom­ing World Cup. It w ould be dis ­ turb­ing, h ow­ever, i f h e g en­uinely be­lieves that his team is the best one­day out­fit in the w orld and is the t eam to beat at ne xt y ear’s t our­na­ment.

This is not to say that his team can­not win the 2015 World Cup. After all the com­pe­ti­tion boils do wn to which one of the t op eight t eams can win thr ee knock­out matches in a row. This sounds rel­a­tively sim­ple, but the un­der­ly­ing im­pli­ca­tion of this re­quire­ment is that on those thr ee da ys e very­thing mus t g o right for th­ese Proteas if they are to be the win­ning t eam.

Let us start with the cap­tain him­self. As things s tand, he will ha ve to come off in all three of those matches. With­out him, the rest of the bat­ting is sim­ply not good enough t o get the job done un­der the pr es­sure of a W orld C up knock­out match. Yet on the re­cent tour he b at­ted bril­liantl y t o mak e thr ee scores over 50 and his eamt lost all three matches ag ainst an A ustralian t eam that not onc e fielded it s be st at tack.

It may be wr ong t o c on­clude fr om this that De Vil­liers ac­tu­ally has to score three big cen­turies in a row to give his team a chance of ul­ti­mate vic­tory, but the point has been il­lus trated that the pres­sure on him not to fail at any stage will be al­mos t int ol­er­a­ble.

It is also said of ODI crick et that it is es­sen­tial that a bats­man who gets in must go on to make at least 100. Dur­ing the r ecent serie s, H ashim Amla and Quin­ton de Kock went on to make cen­turies and y et the P roteas los t both those mat ches.

It ma y be ar gued that w hen much goes right with the bat as it did in this se­ries and the team still loses, the prob­lems it faces are more se­ri­ous than when ev­ery­thing goes wrong. The rea­son­ing be­hind this logic is that if the bit plyaers can­not make telling scores when a good foun­da­tion has been laid for them they are un­likely to do so if things go badly up­front.

Rarely can a player’s stature have im­proved so em­phat­i­cally by not play­ing as did that of JP Du­miny as he watched this se­ries from the side­lines. Not only is he now ex­pected to pro­vide some bal­ance to a list­ing out­fit, but he also looks to be the sa viour of the mid­dle­or der bat­ting that just once saw the team to safety and that was an un­con­vinc­ing ef­fort in the face of a to­tal on the low side of moder ate.

Per­haps Du­miny was the un­spok en thought that in­spir ed De V il­liers t o speak with such c on­fi­dence about his team’s pr os­pects but an a wful lo ad is about t o be thrus t ont o Du­min y’s shoul­ders. He was missed in Aus­tralia, but it is dis­ap­point­ing that none of the other fringe play­ers es­tab­lished him­self in the t eam.

David Miller surely did enough to se­cure a place on the squad, but he must be re­gret­ting that twice he had an op­por­tu­nity to win a mat ch for his team and failed both times to do so. He bats in that po­si­tion where World Cup glory is cer­tain to beckon him at leas t once, but does he ha ve the t em­per­a­ment to an­swer the call?

If the b at­ting of this P roteas t eam was or­di­nary in Aus­tralia, the bowl­ing var­ied from ex­cel­lent on the one oc­ca­sion in Perth to sim­ply aw­ful. The bowlers never looked like de­fend­ing any of the to­tals that the Aussies were set. The “death” bowl­ing apart from that of Kyle Ab­bott was poor and e ven he blot ted his c opy­book un­der pr es­sure in the close g ame in S yd­ney b y bo wl­ing no balls and le g­side full t osses.

It looked as though Dale Steyn, Ver­non Phi­lan­der and Morné Morkel were con­serv­ing their ener gy f or the sum­mer’s more im­por­tant bat­tles. The se­lec­tors must be con­cerned that nei­ther Wayne P ar­nell nor R yan M cLaren looked ca­pa­ble of ful­fill­ing the t ask of a fourth bowler who can make some valu­able runs. Ei­ther of the se two will be for­tu­nate to make the fi­nal squad, but who fr om the dome stic g ame is sug ­ gest­ing him­self as a r eplace­ment?

Im­ran Tahir did w ell­enough ap art from dr op­ping an ab­so­lut e doll y that cost his team the fir st match in Perth. Alviro Peter­son ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions as he of­ten does and has prob­a­bly edged ahead of Aaron Phangiso. He cer­tainly adds some­thing to field­ing and bat­ting.

The field­ing was gen­er­ally good apart from a cou­ple of dropped catches, but it was dis turb­ing that not onc e when a run­out chance was pre­sented did the fielder manag e t o thr ow do wn the stumps. Th­ese are the kind of dis­missals that can turn matches and must be taken in a World Cup. When th­ese chances arise, it is es­sen­tial that the fielder sets him­self and throws in the mode of a otp base­baller. Side arm throws à la Miller usu­ally mis s the t ar­get.

South Africa has yet to win a knock­out match in a W orld Cup and mus t win three in a row to win the ul­ti­mate prize, a task that cur­rently looks beyond them. It all c ounts f or lit tle, h ow­ever, fol­low­ing the heart break­ing death of Philip Hughes. We have been cru­elly re­minded that crick et is a dang er­ous game, par­tic­u­larly at the highe st le vel where bowlers can deli ver a ball in ex­cess of 1 40 km/h. Hel­mets have saved many bats­men from se­ri­ous in­jury, but trag­i­cally, in Hughe s’s case, the b all struck the un­pro­tected brain stem at the back of his neck. A key artery was dam­aged and surgery was un­able to save one of the g ame’s out stand­ing t alents.

A pall of gloom has de scended over the en­tire cricket world as it mourns the death of Hughe s, a “y oung man w ho was killed pla ying the g ame that he loved among peo­ple w ho lo ved him”.

PHOTO: G ALLO IMA GES

Proteas c ap­tain AB de Vil­lier s has a l ot t o think about be fore ne xt y ear’s crick et W orld Cup .

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