“A little bit surprising…”

It may be nothing more than a product of age and experience but there seems to be far less point in conducting a post-mortem on this World Cup performance than on any of the six which preceded it from 1996 to 2015. Besides, there are still three games to go so performing a post-mortem on a body which is technically still alive would be creepy.

The players who have under-performed this time around won’t play another World Cup and there will be a different selection panel for the next one. For all the determination to avoid sentimentality or the power of reputation in selecting squads for the game’s biggest event, they will always be there.

Including Dale Steyn and Hashim Amla in the original 15 were gambles which back-fired. Steyn’s fitness let him down early enough to avoid any damage to the team but Amla’s decline in form has been the single biggest contributor to the team’s miserable failure to reach the semi finals.

It is right and proper that he will be remembered as one of the greatest ODI batsmen of all time. He made himself available for selection for the World Cup when he was 18 months past his best and was averaging 23 compared his career average of almost 50 but he did not select himself so should not be blamed. The evidence to suggest he would not be a success was there for all to see.

Both Amla and the selectors believed he would ‘come good’ and rise to the occasion. There was nothing but sentimentality and nostalgia to suggest that would actually happen, but they are powerful emotions and proved irresistible in this case. Most of us should be honest enough to admit that we, too, might have made the same call as convenor Linda Zondi and his colleagues.

Amla’s innings against Afghanistan was painful to watch but harmless. It was hoped that 28 overs in the middle would help him regain form. But, after some time, form does not return. The great man has lost critical speed of reflex and clearly lacks stamina. His innings against New Zealand left the team 30-40 runs short of a par score and, though Amla was correct in assessing conditions as unfavourable for scoring boundaries, it was his lack of fitness that prevented him from running hard singles.

Every other batsman apart from Rassie van der Dussen has also endured a horrible tournament so far but, for every year of their careers, Amla has been their yardstick, their (mostly) unofficial leader and their inspiration. It is not Amla’s ‘fault’ that a reduction in his own, personal capabilities had such a profound effect on the rest of the batsmen – far greater than merely his lack of runs or the slow rate at which he accumulated them.

Head coach Ottis Gibson was given a hand-grenade of a contract when he started and he knows full well it won’t be renewed now. It has been said he wouldn’t accept an extension even if he was offered to him. He was given 18 months and told that he had to win the World Cup. It wasn’t even long enough to consider relocating from his home in England, so that is where he stayed between tours.

Naturally he remained diplomatic after the New Zealand game but not diplomatic enough to leave anyone in doubt about what he really thought: “We had that language of being positive and aggressive and taking the game forward for a long time since I’ve been here,” he said. “To see, when we come to this stage, guys going into their shell a little bit is… a little bit surprising.”

Perhaps it should not have been surprising at all.

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