SA face tough questions against India
It's better to lose early in the tournament than late, says coach Ottis Gibson
Southampton — You have played properly for one innings out of four. Consequently you have lost both games.
Half your pace attack is crocked, and a key batter may or may not be concussed.
For your next trick, you will take on a side keen to prove they are the best team in the competition.
Welcome to SA’s World Cup campaign.
The disappointment of being beaten by England and Bangladesh will pass, and a plan will be made to fill the holes left by Dale Steyn, Lungi Ngidi and Hashim Amla.
But there is nothing SA can do to avoid their clash with ambitious India in Southampton on Wednesday.
What should Ottis Gibson and his coaching staff do?
“We keep telling [the players] how good they are, we keep going back to our best experiences, we keep going back to the last 10 games we played, and we’ve won eight or nine of them with the same guys who are in the dressingroom now.
“We keep reminding them of that; we keep showing them what they’ve done in our recent history.
“And we see that we’re actually not a bad team. We’re not playing great at the moment, but if we can get it together in the next week or the next game and start to get some momentum, it gives us a lot of confidence going forward.
“Losing two games, and your confidence takes a hit, but you don’t become a bad team overnight.”
Had Faf du Plessis’s team won at least one of their first two games, they could claim some sort of advantage against an Indian side who have yet to begin their bid.
Instead, they go into the game looking like fodder to help India live up to their billing as second favourites after England.
But Gibson cannot afford to entertain that kind of thinking: “There’s no place to hide. We’ve got to get up. We’ve got to think about where we’re going wrong.
“We’ve got to put better spells of bowling together and we’ve got to put better batting together. If one of our top six scores a hundred it’s a different outlook.”
SA’s best bowlers across the two games have been Andile Phehlukwayo and Imran Tahir, who have taken seven wickets between them — as many as the other six combined — and they are the only ones who have conceded less than a run a ball.
There is surely a lesson in the fact that Phehlukwayo and Tahir are the only frontline bowlers used who are not trying to operate at full pace.
Batting. Bowling. Even SA’s fielding was not what it should have been against Bangladesh.
Now they are in damage limitation mode. How many of their remaining six games can they afford to lose without falling out of contention for the semifinals?
“You have an idea in your mind but it’s not something you want to go and start telling people,” Gibson said.
“But losing early isn’t always a bad thing if you’re learning and improving, because if you lose in the last week then you’re going home.
“At the moment we’ve just lost two games and were hurting, but we still have the opportunity to play better. And we know we can play better.
“If you are going to lose, it’s better to lose now than in the first week of July.”
To emphasise his point, Gibson reached for a boxing metaphor in the shape of Anthony Joshua losing all three of his world heavyweight titles in a shock seventh-round stoppage at the hands of the unfancied Andy Ruiz junior at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
“He was the favourite and he got put on the floor. I’m sure he’s going to get up and go on to his next fight, and probably win. We must look at that — get ourselves up off the floor, dust ourselves off and put our best game out on the field.”
Southampton will ask similar questions of SA’s players to what they faced at the Oval.
“It’s normally a good pitch with a very big outfield; it’s a good place to score runs,” Gibson said. “But we need our batters believing they can get runs in a World Cup. If it was a series against Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, probably someone would have scored a hundred by now.
“We need our best six batters believing they can score a hundred in a World Cup situation.”
The questions are the same. What SA need to change are the answers.