All too familiar…?

If it weren’t for South Africa’s record at ICC events there would be every reason to feel confident ahead of their opening fixture against England today.

Preparation has been good, players are fit and confident, and there are enough of them capable of winning a game. Or five games, which is all it takes to win the tournament. The problem for the Proteas, as always, might be that they want it more than the rest of their opponents in the group. England, West Indies and Sri Lanka have all won it already.

It allows them the freedom to take risks, to play with abandon, even when the stakes are at their highest. Whereas South Africa may fear the consequences of a gamble going wrong, other teams will focus on the benefits of a gamble paying off.

There is a great deal to be said for preparation – knowing the par score for a particular ground – but there is far more to be said for attempting to surpass the par score rather than reach it. The Proteas are, once again, regarded amongst the favourites for the tournament despite their record at global events. As Graeme Smith famously remarked after the bitter exit at the 2011 World Cup: “We surely have to win one of these things eventually…”

Indeed they do. And will. But the best way may be to seek more than statistics suggest is good enough, to break away from the formulae which work in bilateral series, to make changes to batting and bowling plans which reflect the way the match is unfolding rather than what was discussed in the hours, days and weeks before the match.

The gravest concern is that South Africa will continue to play ‘old fashioned’ T20 cricket which is a miniaturised  version of the 50-over game with a ‘consolidation’ period in the middle overs after the power play and before the ‘death’ overs. Statistical analysis of domestic T20 games suggest that is where more games are won and lost than in either of the power play or final four overs.

The Proteas have entered the tournament with a plan and a formula. As they have done for two decades. It usually proves to be clinically efficient until the knockout stages. It might again. But it might not, too. Plans and formulas can be more hindrance than help in this game. Sharp, smart thinking on-the-go make more of a difference.

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