On Sunday, South Africa lost their second match in a row in the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup. While the first match ended up as a huge 104-run loss against the hosts England, the most recent loss came against an inspired Bangladesh side.
The performance of the South African team was so uninspiring that, the majority of cricket fans refused to call this result as an 'upset'. South Africa's poor show drew comparisons to a body without a soul. This performance, the team's overall intensity and body language were a stark contrast to previous South African sides.
A hall mark of all South African sides used to be the energy and intensity shown on the field. However, surprisingly, South Africa were extremely poor with their ground fielding. There were countless number of occasions when a South African fielder misfielded or made a wayward throw. One could argue that these lapses in the field weren't going to completely affect the match result, but it did indicate the mindset of the team.
The batting and bowling efforts weren't any better. Coming into this tournament, South Africa had plenty of question marks over their batting line-up. With Hashim Amla's drastic fall in performance levels, only Quinton de Kock and skipper Faf du Plessis were good enough to be termed as quality one-day cricketers. Rassie van der Dussen had indeed made a whirlwind start to his career, but the sample size was too small to burden an inexperienced man with huge responsibility.
As a result, the batting line-up wore a wafer-thin look with no depth and expectedly, this department has been exposed at the World Cup. Ever since South Africa's big fish AB de Villiers retired from International cricket last year, the team has found it difficult to fill the massive void left by the star batsman.
South Africa's bowling unit has also been hugely disappointing. When the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Dale Steyn and Anrich Nortje were named in the squad, South Africa were expected to unleash a much-vaunted line-up at the opposition teams. However, Nortje was ruled out prior to the tournament while Ngidi and Dale Steyn were doubtful starters for the first game. Chris Morris was named as Nortje's replacement and suddenly, even their strongest suit looked a bit jittery.
Ngidi did recover in time for the opening game against hosts England but looked down on pace and like his bowling peers, he was unable to cause some uncertainty and fear amongst the opposition's batting line up.
While one would have given South Africa some leeway considering it was just the first match against the world's best batting line-up, the team didn't get any better against Bangladesh. In fact, the bowling effort only worsened against the Bangladeshi batsmen. After the match ended, former South African captain and opening batsman Graeme Smith lamented South Africa's lack of a 'Plan B' with respect to their bowling tactics.
Considering how the other subcontinental teams have fared against the short ball in the World Cup so far, South Africa looked to do the same in order to dismantle Bangladesh's batting line-up. Yet, the Bangladeshi batsmen seemed ready for that and took on the short balls head on. Soumya Sarkar, in particular, was harsh on anything that was short. Once this happened, South Africa looked lost for ideas and didn't no what to execute.
Lungi Ngidi's hamstring injury during the halfway stage of the match made matters worse for the Proteas. In order to fill in his quota, Faf du Plessis had to resort to part time options in the form of JP Duminy and Aiden Markram. While they can be excused for being inconsistent, the usually dependable Imran Tahir too had a quiet showing with the ball.
Skipper Faf du Plessis has also made some questionable decisions on the field. In the first match, Faf picked young Aiden Markram in the playing 11 ahead of the explosive power hitter in David Miller. On the other hand, he chose to bowl first on a used pitch against Bangladesh at the Kennington Oval. This was surprising, given the question marks surrounding the form and confidence of the South African batsmen
It has not been just his decisions with regards to captaincy, but even his statements in the last couple of weeks that have been questionable. Prior to the tournament, Faf du Plessis said “Cricket is a very important aspect of our lives, but there’s bigger things than winning and losing games of cricket. I want to win cricket games but I don’t need to win them."
While it is great to have a calm mentality amongst the team, it is absolutely necessary that it doesn't turn into a lethargic attitude. Additionally, after the loss against Bangladesh, Faf du Plessis was quoted saying "At the moment we're firing at about 50/60 per cent and it shows. Even Bangladesh can beat that on any day." This wasn't a great comment considering that it takes away the credit from a superb performance from the spirited Bangladeshi team.
Unfortunately, the famous '#ProteaFire' tagline doesn't seem to be inspiring the South African team at this moment. In their World Cup history, the South African team and the fans have had to endure many heartbreaking losses due to poor decision making or rain but a loss without any fight might be the most painful of them all.
Here is a cheeky tweet to sum-up South Africa's situation-
The positive thing for South Africa is that there are still seven games to go in the tournament. If they can get their mojo back, South Africa could probably sneak into the semifinals. With them having to face India in their next game, it will be a challenging task for the Proteas, but as the old saying goes, "Cricket is an uncertain game". South Africa would hope for that to come true.
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