It’s amazing what confidence can do for a sports team. A month ago South Africa were on top of the world after a Smith century lead them to a Test series win against England in England. England were in turmoil after they had started the series well, with a great opening 3 days in the Test series, only to lose the next 12 playing days and find themselves 2-0 down with 1 to play. And then they changed their captain.
Since KP took over from Vaughn and Collingwood in both Test and ODI cricket England have won 5 matches in a row, the final Test, and the opening 4 ODI games. In truth they haven’t just won but really crushed South Africa. South Africa went into the ODI series as the number 2 ranked team in the world, and with a frim sight an taking the number 1 spot. The ODI series should have been a formality as they are a far superior ODI team then the inconsistent England.
It doesn’t look that way now. It’s England that look the world beaters and South Africa that look like they haven’t a clue. While much has been made of the input of KP, and that can not be doubted, South Africa have made it very easy for England and KP himself to look great.
There is a lack of confidence seeping through the team. They just don’t look up for it. The bowling attack, which is one of the best in the world, with the potential to be the best, seem unable to even to the basics. They are running in without a clue of what to do. The batting line up, which has been South Africa’s strength in recent years, are surrendering tamely to an attack that while being good, is hardly great, and great is what they seem right now. If this series had been played a month ago South Africa would have been 4-0 with clinical ruthlessness. Right now they are lucky to be 4-0 down.
While confidence, or lack of it, plays a huge role in South Africa’s fall in fortune, the more telling aspect is that they are paying the price, and a heavy one, for mess ups that occurred off the field in the last year or so. The retirement of Shaun Pollock is the easiest to see. While this may not necessarily be a mess up by South Africa, but rather Polly’s choice, there has been a lack of planning for this. Polly, while not as effective as a wicket taker in Test cricket during the last years of his career, was still the best ODI bowler in the world. Had he been urged and made to feel wanted, I’m sure he could still be playing ODI cricket. He still had a role to play. The hole left by his retirement was never going to be easy to fill, and South Africa have found out just how important a bowler he was.
The bungles off the field have to do with politics and administration. South Africa are crying out for Langeveld on this tour. His swing bowling would have been a weapon that could have been deployed for the misfiring Ntini. But they messed him around and he is no longer available.
There was a hint at further political interference on Sunday. The selectors were brave enough to drop Ntini, who hasn’t been his world class self for a few months now. They replace him with Nel. Fair enough. With Polly gone Nel is the only South African bowler in the current top 10 in ODI bowler rankings. But this is South Africa and things are never that simple. The official line is that Albie Morkel was injured. He played the game before and seemed ok. Yet he was dropped for Philander, who hasn’t looked great on this tour. It seems that they couldn’t drop a black player for a white player so had to bring the quota back up to speed. So Morkel was dropped for Philander. A brave decision to leave Ntini out. A stupid one to leave Morkel out. Until South African politicians see that they are doing more harm than good South African sport will continue to hurt.
Lets just hope Justin Ontong is given a game on Wednesday. He’s had to watch they team struggle for 4 matches and still can’t get a game. de Villiers could keep, Boucher could be rested, and Ontong could bat at 5. Don’t hold your breath though.
pic from cricinfo.com