South Africa floundering but not yet in panic mode


“We know cricket is a game of ups and downs. We need to go back, see where we are going wrong, calm down and do our business.”

Does that sound like a panicked Kagiso Rabada to you?

It shouldn’t. He’s a reasonable, measured man weighing up the pros and cons of professional sport.

How about this?

“When you are losing, it’s tough to find an answer.”

Does it sound panicked? Or bemused?

Probably the latter, as Rabada, a bowler who hasn’t had enough runs to defend, tries to explain why the batsmen are struggling.

What about this?

“We clearly haven’t come to the party. It’s not acceptable at all.”

Does that sound panicked?

At worst, it’s anger. At best, especially said in Rabada’s thoughtful tone, it’s disappointment.

But panicked? South Africa are not there yet, or so they say.

They’re positive, because that is the only way they think they can turn things around. “You need to speak the right language in your mind, be very strong mentally and strive to perfect your skills on the pitch. We need to stay positive. And try not to seek too many answers. When you are winning, you don’t ask yourself too many questions. So it’s just stay positive and try to change the momentum,” Rabada explained.

Though the scoreline looks bad and the scorecards from the first two ODIs look worse, South Africa – or at least Rabada – are able to put the situation in perspective.

They have lost to injuries what Rabada called “three names that are pretty much irreplaceable at the moment” in AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock, and they are not exactly an ODI team in great shape. Although South Africa’s most recent outing before this series were three wins over Bangladesh, that came after an awful Champions Trophy and a series defeat to England last winter. The manner in which South Africa’s mid-year assignments ended – in tears, with the usual questions over their big-tournament mindsets and the usual finger-pointing – left them trailing other teams, and trailing quite far behind India.

“India are a strong team. They beat Australia 4-1. They have been playing good cricket, I know they’ve been playing a lot at home, but good cricket. They’ve had a good foundation for quite a while,” Rabada said. “It doesn’t help that we have been going through a few changes and not been in the best form since the Champions Trophy. We are still trying to catch up at the moment.”

Virat Kohli‘s unit seems to be streets ahead of South Africa both in their ability to adapt to different conditions and in the make-up of their XI. They attack as a collective and stand out as individuals, something South Africa are struggling to match.

Because the batting line-up has failed, the bowlers have very little to work with, so the first thing South Africa must put right is their approach to wristspin. At Tuesday’s optional training session, South Africa had a slew of spinners, of varying competence, trying to put their batsmen through their paces. They did not have the pressure India’s fields have put on them or the looming prospect of going down 3-0, so what good that did them will have to seen on match day but at least they are trying.

If the batsmen get it right, then the bowlers will have more to work with but, even then, they need to find ways of being less one-dimensional. In Rabada, Morne Morkel and Chris Morris, South Africa have three similar seamers: tall, quick and back-of-a-length by default. If Lungi Ngidi plays, they will have more of the same. Andile Phehlulwayo, who takes pace off the ball, is an option but, crucially, South Africa need their spinner(s) to get into the game more. Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi, who played at SuperSport Park, have barely made an impact. Against India, they may continue to struggle, but a campaigner as experienced and wily as Tahir should have a plan.

Overall, South Africa, as a unit, should have a plan and Rabada insisted they do but also admitted that, for now, they will take winning any way they can get it. “In an ideal world, [we’d want to get] close to the perfect game: lot of people score runs, lot of people take wickets, or we need individual brilliance. We’ll take either-or,” he said.

And if they get neither, will they panic?

Probably not, because the only thing they will lose is a series and the No.1 ranking, which coach Ottis Gibson has made clear is not that important in shorter formats anyway. And they will gain a proper understanding of the areas they need to work on ahead of the 2019 World Cup and the players they want to take to that tournament. “Widening the pool is great, so perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise,” Rabada suggested, in a voice that was as calm as you get.



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