The Proteas have no answers. This is perhaps the most concerning aspect of yet another SA implosion at yet another ICC tournament.
The more cynical among us may have expected the Proteas to fall at the penultimate hurdle of the 2017 Champions Trophy tournament in England, or to lose their nerve in the final itself. History tells us that when the pressure is on in a major knockout game, the Proteas don’t have what it takes to finish on the right side of a result.
Indeed, they have won only one World Cup playoff since their inaugural global tournament appearance in 1992. They have progressed to the final of the Champions Trophy only once (in 1998, when they won the tournament). To say that they have problems with composure in the do-or-die matches is to state the obvious.
And yet, with the group phase of the 2017 Champions Trophy now a thing of the past, it’s fair to say the Proteas have failed to meet even the most modest of expectations.
They began their campaign with a convincing 96-run win against Sri Lanka at the Oval — no surprise, given their 5-0 thrashing of the same Sri Lanka side in an ODI series in SA earlier in 2017.
The 19-run loss to Pakistan in a rain-affected game at Edgbaston, however, came as a complete shock. The Proteas were stunned by Pakistan during the group stages of the 2015 World Cup. Two years on, and they made the same mistakes, going into the contest against a supposedly limited Pakistan side with a complacent attitude and failing to apply themselves to the batting task.
That loss put them on the back foot ahead of what was effectively a quarterfinal against India at the Oval on Sunday. So much was expected of both teams. The Proteas were first in the ODI rankings. India were one of the favourites.
On the day, the Proteas capitulated in spectacular fashion. The upshot was a group-phase exit for Russell Domingo’s side.
Much was made of the Proteas’ bowling weakness in the lead-up to this tournament. In the end, it was their much-vaunted batting lineup that let them down. David Miller was the best of the top-five batsmen in the match against Pakistan, scoring 75 not out. Quinton de Kock was next best with 33. Against India, the Proteas lost their last eight wickets for 75 runs. They finished with a total of 191 on a good batting wicket, and were subsequently beaten by an emphatic eight-wicket margin, with 12 overs to spare.
Even now, some might be wondering how a lineup with Hashim Amla, De Kock, Faf du Plessis and the great AB de Villiers was so easily bettered.
Fingers were pointed at captain De Villiers in the aftermath. Questions were asked regarding the quality of the coaching staff. Domingo’s contract will come up for review in August, and many, including former SA captain Kepler Wessels, have called for a new management team that can address the Proteas’ habitual and heartbreaking failings at major ODI tournaments.
There’s no clear solution to the Proteas’ problem with pressure. One thing is for certain, though: the team would be foolish to continue with the same formula and expect a different result at the 2019 World Cup.