Beating Sri Lanka highlights what could have been at Cricket World Cup
Andile Phehlukwayo diagnoses the problem: Proteas did not adapt to a playing a different team each match
London — Lose a game in a bilateral series and you have the chance to bounce back against the same opponents a few days later.
Lose a game in a World Cup and you have to regroup and understand what went wrong well enough to be able to beat new, perhaps entirely contrasting opposition, a few days later.
SA men’s team have not done so in a tournament in which they have won only two of their eight games.
Their World Cup was effectively over in its first week, when they lost to England’s then emphatic — now faltering — bowlers and batters, the subtle, unruffled Bangladeshis, and India’s perfect storm of allround threat.
Then followed a washout against the big-hitting, big-bowling West Indians, and perhaps a good thing too because SA had stumbled to 29/2 when rain decided the issue.
They beat Afghanistan properly — anything less might have made their supporters abandon them forever — but then slipped to defeat against the silkily skilled New Zealanders and the volatile savants of Pakistan.
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And to think that since the 2015 men’s World Cup SA have won 12 of their 15 bilateral one-day series, including rubbers against Australia, England, India and New Zealand, the likely semifinalists this time.
“There’s more importance to a loss in a tournament when there is a different team every game,” Andile Phehlukwayo said on Friday after SA had beaten Sri Lanka by nine wickets in a frankly funereal game at the Riverside in Chester-le-Street.
“You’ve got to change your gameplans, you’ve got to train differently because the opposition is not the same. So there is that hurtful feeling when you lose all the time.
“But you’ve got to still prepare to win and prepare for different teams. It’s been my first World Cup and it was really tough but we’ve got to adjust. Because it’s international cricket, you’ve got to be able to adjust and execute.”
SA have failed, badly, to do so. Which makes performances like Friday’s, when they bowled well enough to dismiss the Lankans for only 203 and dealt with the target with nine wickets standing and 12.4 overs to spare, all the more frustrating.
Albeit none of Sri Lanka’s batters are in the league of the bruising David Warner or the surgical Shakib Al Hasan, and that Lasith Malinga is their only genuine strike bowler threat in these conditions, imagine if Faf du Plessis’s team had played more often in this tournament like they did at the Riverside?
“We needed it after a few sad performances,” Phehlukwayo said of Friday’s showing. “We owed it to the country; we owed it to ourselves.
“We’ve been working really hard and it just hasn’t been going our way. A performance like that was long overdue.
“The dressingroom has been really confident and for that performance to show today and the guys to pick to up their hands. It’s really good to see — to show that we are not just giving lip service to the things we are saying and we can do it.
“One thing I can say is that we can’t blame the effort. The guys were really trying; we’ve been giving our all. We’ve just been short at times.”
Amid all his thoughtful analysis Phehlukwayo also managed to alarm his audience of reporters — not easily done, especially by such a laid-back player.
But, in discussing the hamstring strain that took Lungi Ngidi out of the mix for three games — only the latest of a string of injuries the big fast bowler has suffered — Phehlukwayo said something astounding.
“I think he has just been unlucky at times. It can happen to anyone.”
For his example Phehlukwayo used Pat Cummins, who roared onto the international scene in SA in 2011 but has been derailed by several back injuries.
Cummins has come through all that to take a dozen wickets at an economy rate of 4.66 at this tournament. Only six bowlers have claimed more scalps and 17 have been more economical.
“For [Cummins] now to show the skills and the talent that he has is unbelievable. Lungi has just been unlucky and its something that he is working on.”
That wasn’t the alarming bit, which came next.
“Maybe he is still growing.”
Ngidi stands 1.93m high in the sky and the rest of him does not struggle to meet that tall order.
He glides into the bowling crease smoothly enough but he is a runaway cement mixer when he is chasing down balls in the outfield.
If he is still growing, dressingrooms, team buses, hotel room beds and airplane seats are going to have to grow, too.
See. It’s not so bad. Even in the gloom there’s a laugh to be had.