What happens to a team when their opponents are poor?
● 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?
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.