Analysing the reason behind South Africa's recent poor run
"We are disappointed because we know the potential we have in our squad, and if we could only play according to our potential we can beat any opposition". This is what Faf du Plessis said after South Africa were ousted from the 2016 World Twenty20 in India.
Venues changed, the format changed, the captain changed, but two factors remained as it is. They were knocked out of the tri-series by a number 8 ranked team in West Indies, and captain De Villiers was left fumbling for things to say to the media. Words which sounded eerily similar to what du Plessis had said after the World T20, words which now ring hollow because it seems as if South Africa too have given up hope.
When the tri-nation cricket series was about to commence in West Indies, there was this prevalent feeling that it will be a slugfest between Australia and South Africa, and West Indies will only make the numbers. What transpired was entirely different. 2 losses to West Indies and then to Australia sucked all momentum out of the Proteas and eventually they were eliminated. The chokers tag will come back to haunt them, for after everything they botched up in the do-or-die match against West Indies.
So where has it gone so wrong for South Africa? Is it all gloom and doom for them, or are we reacting way too much? Few might argue that this very team won the One Day Internationals against England after they were behind 2-0 in the five-match series. But having seen the team play, it is very hard to ignore the lack of belief which has filtered into the group.
Twin captaincy dilemma
There are reasons which are gaping at the team, reasons which should be looked into at the earliest, and reasons which if not nipped in the bud might develop into habits.
For starters, the selection committee should take a stock of the split-captaincy approach. They should seriously contemplate as to whether the team is benefitting out of it, or it is just a shot into oblivion. AB de Villiers stepped in as the captain when Faf du Plessis was injured during the World T20, and there is absolutely no reason why he cannot take charge of all the 3 formats. This might kick-start a more cohesive approach and there are great chances that a uniform leader will allow the team to build around himself. The constant chopping and changing at the helm is not going down too well for the team.
The Domingo dynamics
The fact that South Africa have slipped to number 6 from number 1 in Test Matches and have dropped down one level to number 4 in One Day Internationals should be a matter of concern for the people running South Africa cricket. The immediate question that arises is the potency and effectiveness of the coaching and backroom staff. Russell Domingo is a man under pressure and the results of the tri-series will only add to his woes. He has the confidence of captain AB de Villiers, but is that enough to save him from the boot?
Stats do not lie. Under Domingo, South Africa have dropped to number 6, they have lost the semi-final in the 2015 World Cup, they were shunted out of the 2016 World T20 before the semi-finals, and now have been thoroughly beaten by a number 8 ranked (before the series) West Indies. There has to be a reason, and there should be replacements sought. Everything has a shelf life, has Domingo breached his?
For long, England were the laughing stock of the world for their stoic approach to One Dayers. After their humiliation in the 2015 World Cup, they revamped their methods and it has yielded significant results. The question which begs to be asked is that are South Africa going the England way? Are their methods too rigid and stats driven? Do they play according to a set plan, and are not capable of changing if and when required? These questions need answers, and clearly, they have the players in Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, and even Faf du Plessis who need to step up and take the issue by the scruff of the neck.
Why is Dale Steyn bowling for Glamorgan and will now travel to West Indies and take part in the Caribbean Premier League, when South Africa needed a wicket-taker during the tri-series? Is this the end of the Steyn-Morkel partnership in ODIs? If it is, then who are the possible replacements?
On a bouncier pitch in Barbados, where Mitchell Marsh wreaked havoc, one can only assume the impact of Dale Steyn. The trio of Steyn-Morkel-Rabada can very well spell doom for the opposition on their day.
For long, South Africa struggled to produce spinners, but now they have 3 in the form of Imran Tahir, Tabraiz Shamsi and Aaron Phangiso at their disposal, more so in the limited overs format. This is a welcome change, but then a spinner can only be effective if the selection process is consistent and the captain bestows faith in him. This culture change will take time to seep in, but how long will it take to finally get it on track?
And then we get to the reservation policy which has taken full steam in South Africa. Is the mandatory norm of including 7 coloured players in the team hindering the team combination and impeding the growth of the players. This is a huge statement to make, but when the dust settles it might be a very valid point.
As South Africa approach their new season, in which they play 11 Tests which include tours to Australia and New Zealand and then the Champions Trophy in England, they would ideally want to identify the different chinks in their armour and iron out the flaws before it assumes unmanageable proportions.