NEIL MANTHORP: No, mate, there was no X-factor, just the rub of the green
Australia barely made it past the target set by SA in the semifinals of the World Cup
The Australian cricket team have a lot in common with the Springboks when it comes to World Cups. Australia contested their eighth final on Sunday and won it for the sixth time. The Springboks have made it to the final four times in eight attempts and won all of them.
Australian cricket teams believe they have an innate ability to win the big moments in big contests, and it is that attitude that sets them apart from their opponents. Belief is often mistaken for arrogance and creates a rage among their opponents (and their supporters), which makes them even more likely to win those crunch moments.
Most infuriating is when they attribute every success to this mystical “X-factor”, even those victories in which their opponents stood toe-to-toe, trading equal blows, but did not enjoy the rub of the green.
So strongly did conditions favour the bowlers in the first half of the Proteas innings in the semifinal that they could have easily been dismissed for 120. Many teams would have been, including SA teams of the past. Australia faltered in pursuit of 213 and just wobbled past the finishing line. It was a gripping contest decided by runs, wickets and skill, not “attitude”. But it’s convenient to claim some element of “preordainment”!
The Proteas management now needs to start planning for the future but not, as has been the case for the past 24 years, in another four-year cycle. It was alarming to hear Cricket SA director of cricket Enoch Nkwe speaking in detailed terms about the composition of the team and their style of play for the next World Cup when he was in India before the semifinals had even been played.
Much can and will change before that tournament is hosted by SA, with some games played in Zimbabwe and Namibia. The Proteas squad for this tournament contains half a dozen players well into their 30s who may not even be available for the national team, if they are playing cricket at all.
The format may even change, resulting in different requirements from the selected personnel. There is a growing movement to reduce ODI cricket to 40 overs per innings, perhaps a return to using one ball rather than two, and even to substitute players.
Prominent among Cricket SA’s priorities must be giving the best young players sufficient opportunities to play against the strongest opposition, especially all-rounders, the traditional strength of SA teams. It may require a radical change of mindset from Nkwe and his team.
Cricket SA does not have the money to stage sufficient domestic cricket. In order for cricketers such as Beyers Swanepoel, for example, to prove their worth, they should never have to seek “permission” to play domestic cricket elsewhere — they should be encouraged to do so.
Lions all-rounder Wiaan Mulder has tripled his learning and doubled his skills after two years playing county cricket and is reaping the rewards now — but somehow his sojourn away from SA seems to have counted against him, as all of the Kolpak players have discovered.
One thing should be certain: Temba Bavuma is the right man to continue as captain, at least until the Champions Trophy in Pakistan in just under two years. The disdain and vitriol directed at him during the campaign in India, and afterwards, was as misguided as it was pathetic.
“This team has been together for a couple of years now and if one of them said ‘Temba, you’re not the right man to carry on’, then I would have no problem stepping aside. But I’m not going to do that because of what someone says on Facebook or Twitter,” Bavuma said on arrival back in Johannesburg on Sunday.
Head coach Rob Walter, who will remain in charge until at least the Champions Trophy, has been unequivocal in his support for Bavuma — as are his teammates: “I couldn’t have been more proud of the way he led the team, both before and during the World Cup. And let’s not forget he was the lead man in getting us here in the first place,” Walter said in reference to Bavuma’s runs in a three-match series against England a year ago which they had to win to qualify.
Bavuma is right to point out that he has three jobs: batting and scoring runs, building significant partnerships with his opening partner, and captaining the team. He is the first to admit that his batting returns were thin, but he certainly batted for meaningful times with Quinton de Kock, and his leadership was beyond reproach.
“I’m not sure what matrix people want to measure me by, but we won more games during this World Cup than any other SA team and we played some brilliant cricket. Yes, we didn’t win the tournament, but no other SA captain has done that either,” Bavuma said.
Onwards and upwards. It’s the only way.
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