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South Africa Has Yet To Bring Its 'A' Game

12/03/2015 6:17 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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South Africa's Rilee Rossouw is congratulated by teammates after taking a catch to dismiss United Arab Emirates batsman Saqlain Haider during their Cricket World Cup Pool B match in Wellington, New Zealand, Thursday, March 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Ross Setford)

South Africa beat UAE by a whopping 146 runs in their last match of the league phase to ensure a place in the quarter-finals, but I am not sure how pleased AB de Villiers would have been after the game.



The source of the South African captain's unhappiness would not be because he had been dismissed for 99: that only showed he was mortal! Rather, there are still issues - in both batting and bowling - which suggest that the Proteas are still short of being at their best.



Young opener Quinton de Kock, for instance, failed yet again to make a mark despite spending close to an hour in the middle. The 26 runs he scored were ugly to watch as he struggled against the none-too-impressive UAE bowling on a pitch that may have been a touch on the slow side, yet full of runs.



De Kock, who came to prominence with three centuries on the trot against India about 15 months ago, has six centuries overall in ODIs. But in six innings in the World Cup he has scratched his way to a measly 53 runs hardly looking like the most promising young batsman in the world.

south africa uae

South Africa's Rilee Rossouw is congratulated by teammates after taking a catch to dismiss United Arab Emirates batsman Saqlain Haider during their Cricket World Cup Pool B match in Wellington, New Zealand, Thursday, March 12, 2015.

Should he be persisted with in this form is the question that will vex de Villiers. The youngster was seen as integral to the team's plan because he also keeps wickets, which freed the South African captain from this responsibility. But with de Kock in such dismal form, de Villers might be compelled to don the wicket-keeping gloves again.

The good part about the South African team is that it not only bats deep, but that the batsmen are also versatile. Roussow and du Plessis can be trusted to open the innings, so de Kock's absence may not hurt that much. Also, Duminy is back from a niggle and could get a chance to bat higher.

Figures of 9-1-40-1 against the weakest team in the tournament do not do credit to the world's premier pace bowler.

But what this still entails is rejigging not just the batting order, but also the game-plan in a way. Between Hasham Amla and de Kock, the opening pair had looked settled as a right-left combination which can be unsettling for bowlers.

Talking of bowlers, de Villiers could not have been too happy that his spearhead, Dale Steyn had a mediocre outing against UAE. Figures of 9-1-40-1 against the weakest team in the tournament do not do credit to the world's premier pace bowler.

But the bleak returns in this match are only a continuation of Steyn's poor performance in the tournament. In six matches he has got only 5 wickets, and hardly any in his opening spells that South Africa expects from him all the time.

Of course, given Steyn's pedigree, it would be foolish to write him off. But for the moment, his inability to pick up wickets has cost his team dear, especially in the games against India and Pakistan.

Fortunately for de Villiers, Morne Morkel has come good and Vernon Philander has recovered from injury in time. With leg spinner Imran Tahir in good form, South Africa are still looking for a fifth wicket-taking bowler without upsetting the balance of the side.

Against UAE, Farhan Berhadein filled in quite well as an all-rounder. But will he look the part against stronger opponents in the knock-out stages or should he make way for Abbot or Parnell, even if it weakens the batting somewhat?

Before the World Cup began, these questions would have been academic. Now, South Africa are looking a trifle vulnerable in batting and bowling, and making changes in the side will only send out signals of worries to opponents.

De Villiers has tried to tackle these issues by stepping up not only on his batting contributions, but also turning his arm over as a relief bowler and picking up wickets.

But while that may add to our wonderment about the cricketer he is, the South African captain knows that winning the World Cup is unlikely as a one-man show. He is seeking support.

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