South Africa went into the World Cup as the number one ranked team in the world. They had just enjoyed convincing series victories against India and Pakistan. Confidence was high and there was a special feeling within the squad that they could put their previous World Cup disappointments and nightmares behind them, and this could be their year. Buoyed by a great two years, which saw them climb the ICC rankings, from 7th place to 1st, as well as that victory at the Wanderes against Australia, where they chased a world record 435 and won. So they felt they felt they were good enough, unlike other teams they didn’t fear Australia, so where did it all go wrong?
The problems of inconsistency, and lack of intensity, brought about by a tournament that was way to long, with sustained periods of inactivity between games, and that of the spin bowler have been well discussed, but there is an even bigger issue that played a part in the World Cup disappointment.That problem would be the hardest to fix – selection. While the first eleven may be the strongest available, and perhaps the 12th player would have been good enough to fill in, the other two squad members were not the best available. The selection criteria in South Africa is more tricky then in any other country, with political factors coming into play that are unique to the countries situation, meaning that the squad is not always as strong as it could be. The goal for the World Cup was that 7 of the 14 players chosen had to be players of colour, and while this should not take away from the fact that most of those chosen deserved to be there, it does lead to some potential selection problems. Players like Ntini and Gibbs are amongst the best in the world, so it shouldn’t be misinterpreted that the players of colour are in the squad just because politics dictates that they should be. The problem arises when one of the players of colour become unavailable, due to injury for example. If a fast bowler like Ntini is injured he not only has to be replaced by another fast bowler, but also by a non white player, so the quota is still filled. The next best fast bowler may not be a player of colour, but he’ll have to wait for the likes of Hall or Nel to be replaced to get his call up. It’s a unique situation, brought about by the countries past, and for the need to field a team that is representative of the entire country, but it does have its problems. Roger Telemachus travelled to the World Cup and didn’t feature in a single game. He also hadn’t played any international cricket since the 438 game against Australia. A player like Johan van der Wath deserved his chance but could not make the squad. Had he been there he could have filled in for any of the fast bowlers, and would have been the ideal man to come in for the miss firing Justin Kemp. Kemp went to the World Cup with a reputation as a big hitting finisher of an innings, but apart from a sedate 49* in the semi final loss, he didn’t nothing all tournament. His bowling was not up to standard and his batting was well bellow form. Van der Wath is a far better bowler, and as a batsmen is capable of being the new Lance Klusner that South Africa have been missing. He is equally capable of opening the bowling as he is of being first change, and is a very good death bowler. He should by now be a fixture in the South African first eleven but has failed to even make the squad for the last few series. The problem, when someone as capable has him are being given such a raw deal, is bigger then the selectors are acknowledging. The same situation arises with the batting positions. Van der Waths Eagle’s team mate, Morne van Wyke, has been the outstanding domestic batsmen for the last few years, but has not been given a chance. He can fill any of the batting roles, as well as keep wicket. Yet he has hardly been mentioned. While Ashwell Prince has been South Africa’s best Test batsmen for the last year, he has not been as affective in ODI’s. The problem is that in modern cricket 300 is becoming more of a par score then a daunting winning total it seemed even 2 years ago. So can teams afford to carry more then one player who is there to knock around the singles, bat around the hitters, and rebuild an innings? Kallis is the player South Africa look to bat around, it is him who they want to bat through the innings. But do they need a player like Prince to follow him? When setting or chasing big totals you hardly want the two of them batting together. And when the situation arose where he was needed to rebuild, to consolidate, to play the role he was picked for, against Australia in the semi final, he failed, driving at a wide delivery to be out for a duck. A player like Hashim Amla, regarded as a Test player only, has transformed his limit over profile in the domestic competition, and cant be far off selection. Like Amla, who would be able to play both a patient or an aggressive innings, depending on the situation, the likes of van Wyke, JP Duminy and Niel Mckenzie, should all hopefully come into the reckoning soon. Loots Bosman is another who could have a role to play. He went to the world cup, played one game, but didn’t get a chance to bat. He’s a destructive opening batsman, who could be used when conditions are favourable. I’ve already discussed the issue of Johan van der Wath, but another aspect that was missing from the South African attack, especially once Ntini had been left out, was that of a strike bowler. The potential of raw pace in an armoury was well highlighted by Tait, Bond and Malinga, but South Africa did not have a bowler of that speed that they could look to when needed. Dale Steyn, although raw and unpredictable at times, is the express bowler that could have made a difference to the South African bowling attack. An attack spearheaded by the miserly accuracy of Pollock could have been complemented by the pace of Steyn, especially an attack that has failed to bowl out opposition on many occasions.
The young players are coming through but need to be given a fair chance and the confidence of knowing that they are in the selectors plans. All things being fair there is not reason why South Africa shouldn’t be playing at an equal or better level to the Australians. Lets hope they get things right soon.