It’s going to be a long June for captain Faf du Plessis and his Proteas — and SA cricket fans. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/POPPERFOTO via PHILIP BROWN
It’s going to be a long June for captain Faf du Plessis and his Proteas — and SA cricket fans. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/POPPERFOTO via PHILIP BROWN

In losing to Bangladesh at The Oval on Sunday, the Proteas appear to be in danger of missing the train to the World Cup semifinals.

By the time this is being read, they will have also played against India in Southampton on Wednesday; if they lose this match, the side will have lost their opening three 2019 Cricket World Cup games after having lost to England by 104 runs in the tournament opener last Thursday.

Three losses in three matches would mean they have more than half the tournament left to play with absolutely no chance of reaching the semifinals.

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Such a nosedive would represent a significant regression. Talk was once of "choking" in the knockout phases of a tournament, but you can’t choke if you don’t even get to that stage.

This is scandalously creative on the part of the Proteas and their management team, a kind of pre-emptive choking, or pre-choke choking. They might not be able to win many one-day internationals (ODIs) anymore, but hell are they adept at finding fresh ways of losing.

Here we have a nation whose cricketers were once among the most feared in the world. At the 1999 World Cup in England, the Proteas failed by only a much-needed moment of calm to beat Australia and reach the final against Pakistan.

That side featured Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Hansie Cronje, Jonty Rhodes, Gary Kirsten and Lance Klusener, the "Klusenator". It also included Daryll Cullinan, one of the most sublime technicians of the post-readmission game, and Nicky Boje, an all-rounder who reeled off ODI hundreds in the pinch-hitter role.

Even if we accept natural cycles of rise and fall, the current side are not in the same league as the 1999 side. That team learnt their cricket in the dying days of apartheid but came to international maturity at a time when the provincial game was strong and cricket was controlled by Ali Bacher, essentially a benign dictator.

By 1999 politicians were, rightly, beginning to flex their muscle, arguing that the game needed to be broadened and become more inclusive. So began the long walk to transformation, a process that has produced a Makhaya Ntini but has also brought waves of repoliticisation by successive administrative elites.

The current crew led by Cricket SA (CSA) CEO Thabang Moroe are, without doubt, the worst of the lot.

The post-Bacher period also saw the falling value of the rand, the flexing of Indian muscle through the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the irresistible rise of T20 cricket.

Many of this year’s original World Cup squad — Lungi Ngidi, Kagiso Rabada, Chris Morris, Anrich Nortje, Dale Steyn — participated in the 2019 IPL, were injured in the tournament, or were called up as replacements for others who were injured.

CSA couldn’t prevent their participation because though they are handsomely rewarded locally, six weeks’ work in the IPL is still too good an offer for the South Africans to refuse.

Quite why there have been so many injury concerns and worries with the bowlers, though, is anyone’s guess. Perhaps medical protocols haven’t been observed? Or perhaps there hasn’t been enough intervention on the part of the medical staff?

Ngidi has been shadowed by injury for months. Going off with a hamstring strain after having bowled only four overs against Bangladesh was inconvenient, to say the least. It might have cost SA the game. Not for the first time in World Cups there seems to have been insufficient attention paid to the details.

It was the bowlers, after all, who were meant to be the key to the Proteas’ success in the tournament. They would bowl sides out, we were told. Failing that, they would restrict teams when chasing. Well, the first two matches proved such predictions wrong, both England and Bangladesh scoring more than 300 batting first.

In both instances, the Proteas batsmen fell short, despite courage from Quinton de Kock in the first game and Faf du Plessis in the second.

Whichever way you look at it, it’s going to be a long June. No-one, we are beginning to learn to our chagrin, does déjà vu with quite the elan that the Proteas do.