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Perhaps the South Africans have got a major defeat out of the way

3.24K   //    25 Feb 2015, 01:29 IST
AB de Villiers’ South Africa still a force to reckon with in this World Cup

Despite what a plethora of motivational books say about drawing positives from a defeat, certain scenarios render it impossible. It’s perhaps why terms like ‘demoralizing’, ‘soul-crushing’ have come into existence. A forgettable day at work brings with it an atmosphere of gloom, one that hovers long enough to make you doubt all aspects of your craft – even ones that may not really need a rethink.

A disheartning result

It’s hard to brush aside such setbacks as “one bad day at office”. After reprimanding yourself for not being able to control the situation better, you just want to shut the mind down and sleep over the problem. It could be a wise thing to do.

For the South Africans, it was one such day after conceding a 130-run defeat to India. Skipper AB de Villiers, usually an epitome of confidence on the field, understandably appeared dispirited, stating “I just want to sort of go feel sad in my room for a while” when asked by the scribes during the post-match conference to extemporally analyze his side’s uncharacteristic defeat. Although the statement was underlined with a dash of humor, De Villiers must look to do just that – be disappointed only “for a while”.

It is unusual for a team of South Africa’s calibre, considered to be favorites in almost every ICC tournament, to be mauled in such fashion. Their vulnerabilities were brought to the fore in most ways imaginable. To see a team that sets the highest standards possible in each department of the game thwacked must have come as a surprise, even to the neutrals.

Their fielders faltered, bowlers leaked runs and batsmen duly felled. But such is the nature of sport that regardless of all the planning and resources at disposal, it could well be all in vain on an off day.

Far from the end of the road

Nonetheless, if the South Africans did aim to deduce a positive from their scarring defeat to India, the first point to consider would be the fact that the loss arrived at an early juncture of the tournament, carrying with it as little repercussions as possible.

The setback hasn’t pushed South Africa to the brink of exit, neither has it drastically toppled its chances of finishing at a leading position in the group. The worse that may happen is that they end up facing a team in the opposite pool with higher wins under its belt, but that shouldn’t matter a significant deal to a side touted to go all the way in a tournament.

Moreover, since the frailties have been exposed this early, it presents an opportunity to tighten the tricky ends before the critical leg of the World Cup commences. For a unit that’s well-equipped in most conditions, the crevices in South Africa’s armor were not entirely unpredicted: a middle-order that often crumbles after the top-order fails to score runs against a good opposition in an important game, and a tendency to droop if the fast bowlers are unsuccessful in bagging early scalps, to name a few.

JP Duminy walks to the pavilion after giving away his wicket 

Chinks like the above have lead to defensive field settings that do more harm than good. Pick any of South Africa’s matches in a major tournament in the last decade-and-a-half that for them has produced an unfavorable outcome and you will see one or all of the above mentioned cases present. 

It was also made evident during the loss against India that an opening bowler was half fit. Imagine how despondent the South Africans would have been had Vernon Philander’s hamstring injury surfaced during a knockout fixture.

It is also highly likely that never again in their quest for this World Cup will the South Africans witness a crowd of the magnitude that filled the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on Sunday during the game against India, except if they face the home team Australia in the knockout rounds, or India again. Apparently, close to 70,000 of the 86,876 seats were occupied by Indian supporters on the day. It can safely be assumed that the decibel levels produced by half that number of Indians will be unmatched by twice as many Australians.

There is no denying the fact that raucous support for India did have an impact on the South Africans. However, it’s an experience they will be pleased to have witnessed early on in the tournament, for it will help them prepare keeping in mind the challenges ahead. 

Only a month ago, the Indians looked hopelessly out of place Down Under, but they have shown that a sturdy turnaround is not improbable. Perhaps the same awaits South Africa.

Cricket is a sport, and many a team has shaken off heavy defeats. It could be that South Africa have got their errors and defeat out of the way at start. The time to write them off as favorites is not yet here.

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