The Proteas came into the ICC T20 World Cup with a meticulously considered, well-prepared game plan which resulted from many fruitful hours of discussion and analysis. It included reflections from many previous, failed campaigns and the result was to avoid the moments of ‘panic’ which had derailed them before.
They reached an understandable and commendable conclusion. Not to get ‘ahead’ of themselves or be caught up in the hype of the occasion. They would be methodical. 20 overs is 120 balls – a lot of cricket. They would start calmly, even conservatively, and catch up later. They were good enough to do that.
It was a fine notion. And it may even be good enough to win the semifinal, and especially the final when the weight of the occasion usually subtracts 20 per cent from even the best players’ performances. But the ‘conservative’ approach should have led to defeats against both New Zealand and the Netherlands.
Brilliant individual performances from Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir spared the team’s blushes until they reached the ‘quarterfinal’ against England at which point they changed tack. Perhaps their collective hand was forced by the suspension of captain Faf du Plessis. Maybe that was the only reason to bat AB de Villiers at No 3.
Or perhaps they finally heard the noise from the outside. The world’s best batsman should always bat at No 3. The notion that Hashim Amla should play an ‘anchor role’ is outdated. The Powerplay is there to be exploited. Lonwabo Tsotsobe has been laid bare by video analysis and has done nothing to reinvent himself. David Miller needs to bat higher. It was all said before the tournament even started, and again after the first three games.
Now the Proteas have produced a defining performance to reach the semifinals, hopefully they won’t bother defending their initial approach. It was understandable, it was logical (to them) and it was entirely excusable. But they have now experienced the success which comes from a positive and fearless approach. Hopefully there will be more of the same in the final two games.
Captaincy is harder than most imagine. Du Plessis is good at it. He reads the game well and has the respect of his players. He is also happy to accept responsibility and face ‘pressure’ head on. That’s why he bats at No 3. He is unafraid. Perhaps, ironically, he needs to be more selfless.
Protecting De Villiers from “getting a good ball early on” is archaic ideology. Anyone can get a good ball at any stage in 20 overs. Du Plessis knows his best mate is the better batsman. To assume he is ‘protecting’ him by batting ahead of him is flawed. His ideology may be honourable, but his primary duty is to serve the team first – not himself, or even De Villiers.
There may be a case for the captain batting at No 3 if a wicket falls in the first two or three overs, but thereafter his concern should be for taking care of the back end of the innings by coming in at No 5 or six. He is capable of both rebuilding or accelerating. He is that good. But he is not as good as his best mate. Captain or not.
Here’s to the same positive approach to the semifinal.
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