The words on the tips of the country's tongues all fall in the same direction. What happened to our cricket side over in our troubled neighbour's backyard? How did we not win that tournament? It wasn't merely due to one upset in a final that could go either way, it was a bad performance across the board. It is easy to merely make excuses, as South Africans we are great at doing that, and there are certain mitigating factors that will rest easy in the hearts of the public. However, it is better to give credit where credit is due, understand the context of the loss and move forward.
Is South Africa simply a poor T20 side? The answer to this is probably no, but going into a tournament without your best T20 players is bound to have some effect. AB de Villiers is not only a shrewd limited overs captain, but probably the world's most versatile batsman in all forms of the game. With the ability to shift gears in an instant and tailor his play to almost any match situation, he is an integral part of the Proteas middle-order and his absence was glaring. With a few impotent performances from the middle-order, Faf Du Plessis was shifted further down than originally planned, as cover. Add to this the absence of Jacques Kallis, an IPL stalwart, and the batting order begins to wear thin.
Throughout the tournament the South African bowling attack, although rotated, were listless and non-penetrating. Parnell took wickets but was typically expensive, as was Marchant De Lange. Lopsy struggled to take wickets, while the new kid on the block Chris Morris failed to impress besides for a tidy economy rate. Robin Petersen was good up until the final, where Masakadza and Taylor showed he can also be taken apart with a bit of application. The fielding was also well below-par for South African standards, with uncharacteristic dropped catches and fumbles making the task at hand all the more difficult.
The argument reverts back to the missing players. Dale Steyn is the world's premier fast bowler, another IPL veteran, and all that is needed is another glance at his over against Richard Levi earlier this year to show what he is capable of. Morne Morkel was another noted exclusion. His pace and awkward bounce would have made things a lot more difficult for batsman such as Hamilton Masakadza, and the 2012 IPL top wicket taker would be a dead cert in any international T20 team. My friends, these are not excuses. There was a method to this madness.
The team we fielded in the Tri-Series was experimental. It was designed to test combinations and fringe players and hopefully find some form for the players that gathered rust as the IPL moseyed along. The beatings (and there is no better word for it) we took at the hands of the minnows were more enlightening than they were worrying. For instance, it proved to me that Hashim Amla, no matter how glorious a batsman, still has a long way to go as a replacement captain. His decision making was predictable and his aggression non-existent. Understandably, he was thrust into the position after Johan Botha was ruled out with a knee injury, but he has captained sides before and is no stranger to leadership. It also proved to me that Colin Ingram has matured as a batsman and may be very important for South Africa in the limited form of the game, especially with age slowly getting the better of Jacques Kallis. It would've proved enlightening to the South African coaches and selectors, possibly more so than if the Proteas had done as well as the public expected of them.
As the Proteas showed when they beat Zimbabwe to make the final, if you get the top three out cheaply, the rest will follow. Zimbabwe relied on key players to win the tournament, but at the end of the day, that is what T20 cricket is all about. Getting runs on the board and a good effort in the field will bring more success than heartache. The South African public should not forget that the Proteas did make the final, and did beat both their competitors on the way in. However, this is a hollow consolation and the team should not be commended on things that they should be doing. The sloppy overthrows conceded in the 15th over of the final to gift Brendan Taylor his half century summed up the South African's tournament perfectly. But don't read too much into these losses ahead of the T20 World Cup. There are still three T20's against England with a full-strength team, which will be a better barometer to measure where we are before we visit Sri Lanka in September. Keep the faith.
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