South African sport has not had the best of times in the last week or so. First there was the terrible haul of only one medal at the Olympic games, with excuses doing the rounds about just why we faired so badly, from lack of funding, administration faults, clashing personalities and a host more, the rugby team, the world champion Springboks, were thrashed at home by New Zealand and Australia, leaving them bottom of the tri nations. All that was brought into relative accomplishment by the humiliating and thoroughly embarrassing defeat by the cricket team yesterday. I say yesterday because the match didn’t last long enough for me to quantify it as last night.
Trailing the 5 match ODI series 1-0 after the 20 run defeat on Friday the Proteaswere looking to put things right in the second ODI. Jacques Kallis had described Fridays performance as the worst ODI team performance of the last few years. He should have waited a few days before making that comment. Yesterdays match was the worst performance by the Proteas in their 406 match ODIhistory. The 83 all out total they managed was not their lowest ever, that was the 69 they scored against Australia in 93/94 in Sydney. But it was the fewest number of balls they faced in a completed innings. The 10 wicket defeat, with England reaching the total with 215 balls to spare, was South Africa’s worst ever.
With the tour reaching a high point after the 3rd Test victory, which gave South Africa a series win, their first in England since the 1960’s, it’s been pretty much down hill since then. What will annoy all South Africans even more is that this turn around has coincided with Kevin Pietersen being appointed England captain.
South Africa are a far better ODIteam than England. They are ranked 2nd in the world, and a 5-0 or 4-1 victory in this series would have taken them to number one. That isn’t going to happen anymore. They came into the series on the back of a run of 9 victories. The Test series was the hard part of the tour, the ODI series should have been a mere formality. They now need to somehow pick themselves up and sort themselves out if they are to have any hope of winning the next 3 ODI’s and taking the series 3-2. A series win is the only thing that will ease the pain of what happened yesterday.
South Africa looked like a team that wanted to go home. They haven’t looked focused and have lacked intensity since winning the Test series. There can be no excuses for this. What should have happened when the Test series was won with a game to spare, was that the likes of JP Duminy and Monde Zondeki would have been given a game. Instead they went with an unchanged team that lacked intensity and desire. Duminy has been on tour for a few months now and has not played a competitive match until the ODI series. What better time was there to give him his Test debut, and an international match, then in the dead rubber of the final Test. Zondeki should have played to reward him for being on Tour, being South Africa’s best domestic bowler last season, and to give Ntini a rest.
Half the ODI team were not involved in the Test series yet we see a team that looks jaded and tired. Western teams often complain about the hardship of long tours on the subcontinent, especially Pakistan, because of the different culture, food, and, in terms of Pakistan, extended hours in hotel rooms, with the alcohol to drink! While this has been a long tour the fact is that England is one of the easiest tours for western teams, as it has all the creature comforts of home. If they can’t survive this tour how are they going to cope with long tours to Australia, where the cricket will be far more demanding?
I wrote earlier of the mental toughness that this South African team has. It was the reason they got a draw in the first test andwon the third one. It’s the reason they stand a better chance against Australia then past South African teams have. Yet all that talk seems wishful thinking on this evidence. This has been a long tour and the players are looking forward to coming home, but losing only makes the days longer. Lets hope that the South Africans are really hurting after these two losses, particularly the manner of yesterdays, andlets hope they make England pay in the best way possible, by convincingly beating them in the next three ODI’s. Responding to a devastating low is also a sign of mental toughness. Lets see if they have it in them.
(pic from cricinfo.com)