Playing against Zimbabwe like turning a hose on homeless person
● Celebrate, South Africans. This is the last day you will have to pretend Faf du Plessis’s side are playing against a cricket team and not a sad collection of players, several of them talented, skilled and experienced but no less pathetic for that.
They are so far out of their league they seem to have come from another, lesser planet — not from across the Limpopo.
This was written on Friday before the second T20 against Zimbabwe. The third game in this already forgotten series is today. So, at the time of writing, the visitors had two chances to avoid being whitewashed for the eighth time in a bilateral series in SA.
Zimbabwe have been as poor as a team could be, save for being done for matchfixing or drug-taking, or pledging allegiance to mad Bob Mugabe.
At least until Friday, SA had turned up and won, and usually all they had to do was turn up. Sometimes they won unconvincingly, but you have to cut them some slack for losing interest and focus because of the pitiful state of their opposition.
It’s up there with taking things one game at a time in the big book of sport’s clichés, but you can only beat who’s in front of you.
For the South Africans, playing against Zimbabwe must feel like turning a garden hose on a homeless person: something that should get them into trouble with the police, and that should not at all be celebrated.
Until Friday, SA turned up and won, and all they had to do was turn up
Even so, once the Zimbabweans are, mercifully, sent home today, it will be up to the home side to decide what value they can take from the six games the Zimbos played here.
Top of the list is the now established fact that Dale Steyn still has white-ball fever. Perhaps because the queue of younger quality quicks shows no sign of getting shorter, perhaps because of the looming mountain that is the 2019 World Cup, perhaps because he is discovering all over again what his body can do, perhaps because he’s always going to be a magnificently otherwise bastard, Steyn was a 35-year-old kid on a sugar high in the one-day series.
His return of five wickets for 48 runs in two games didn’t set the scoreboard on fire. But the way he bowled — with the kind of passion that sent some of Zimbabwe’s alleged batsmen retreating towards square leg as he delivered — might have had the entire ground in flames.
The real Dale Steyn stood up in the second game of the series in Bloemfontein. At the batting crease, nogal, smoting a smoking 60 after most of his supposed betters had failed, and leaving no doubt that SA need him in their corner at the World Cup.
That SA needed Steyn to dig them out of the impending dwang, and that their batting in other games during Zimbabwe’s tour has left their compatriots wondering what they’re smoking, tells us the AB de Villiersshaped vacuum at the centre of the order has yet to be filled.
There is, as has been noted in these pages before, no replacing De Villiers, whose greatness is doubted only by those who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. But SA won’t get away with busking their way out of trouble against proper opponents.
Imran Tahir has returned from playing in the Pakistan Premier League, the Indian Premier League, the Caribbean Premier League and his 437th winter in England rudely rejuvenated — a hat-trick in the Bloem ODI and a T20 career-best in East London, where two more hattricks only just escaped him, are not the things 39-year-olds are supposed to be made from.
It’s difficult to believe Tahir played 36 matches between the end of SA’s ODI series against India in February and the beginning of Zimbabwe’s miserable visit. Exactly what is in those smoothies he makes?
Good things, mostly. But, please, Zimbabwe, piss off home already.