Sunday Times

What hap­pens to a team when their op­po­nents are poor?

- The Lead­ing Edge Telford Vice Sports · Belgium · Iceland · Belarus · Austria · Zimbabwe · England · England national football team · Australia · Pakistan · Sri Lanka · Australia national football team · Lance Klusener

● Team A play de­cent cricket. Some­times even ex­cel­lent cricket. Team B have the play­ers to be bet­ter than they are and try hard, but clearly they are not in the same league as their op­po­nents.

Team B are beaten more of­ten than not; fre­quently enough for their rare suc­cesses to be her­alded as hope for the fu­ture — hope that is soon cru­elly crushed by the next in­evitable de­feat.

But ev­ery­one is happy when they win, ex­cept sup­port­ers of teams who per­form even more poorly than they do.

But what of Team A? Vic­tory is all but as­sured when they are up against a side who don’t be­long on the same field, but what of their mind­set? And how might fix­tures that are not at all con­tests in terms of in­ten­sity and mean­ing af­fect them when they are up against proper op­po­si­tion?

Plenty wrong

SA — Team A above, as you’ve no doubt worked out — got plenty wrong in their one-day se­ries against Team Z. Sorry Team B, or Zim­babwe.

SA’s bats­men, that is, who owed their bowlers so many beers af­ter the first two games that the lat­ter may never be sober again should they col­lect that debt.

Thanks solely to them — they’ve even scored more than their share of the runs some­times — SA haven’t strug­gled to beat the Zim­bos, go­ing into yes­ter­day’s game in Paarl at least.

None of which means much in the con­text of the next seven months, which will cul­mi­nate in the start of the World Cup in Eng­land.

By then we will strug­gle to re­mem­ber that Zim­babwe were even here, much less the nuts and bolts of what hap­pened in this se­ries.

What might that mean for SA’s ODIs against Aus­tralia, Pak­istan and Sri Lanka, their re­main­ing en­gage­ments in the for­mat be­fore the tour­na­ment? His­tory says it won’t mat­ter much.

Crashed 1-7 to Aus­tralia

In 2001-02 SA smacked Zim­babwe 3-0 then crashed 1-7 to Aus­tralia. In 2009-10 they won both ODIs against the Zim­bab­weans and lost to Eng­land by the odd game in three.

But there are six other ex­am­ples of SA putting Zim­babwe away and win­ning their next bi­lat­eral ODI rub­ber.

On that ev­i­dence it seems go­ing from glo­ri­fied mid­dle prac­tices to the real thing doesn’t take the air out of a team’s tyres.

Even so, the sorry saga of the tied 1999 World Cup semi­fi­nal wouldn’t be com­plete with­out ref­er­ence to the fact that SA would have qual­i­fied for the fi­nal given that re­sult had they not lost a game they should have won ear­lier in the tour­na­ment.

Team B to­talled 233/6 that day, and then dis­missed SA for 185 — a score they wouldn’t have come near had a cou­ple of bowlers, Shaun Pol­lock and Lance Klusener, not made 52 each.

Some things, then, don’t change. Nei­ther do oth­ers: who were Team B in that match?

See para­graph four above.

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