Learning from victory

There is an old adage in sport which suggests that individuals and teams learn more about their performance in defeat than in victory. If it also applies that the heavier the defeat the more you learn, then the Proteas in Harare will be wise men after their embarrassing defeat to Bangladesh on Friday.

It wasn’t the result which was embarrassing. They have lost to Bangladesh before. Everyone has lost to Bangladesh at some point. It was the manner of the performance that would have humiliated them.

There are no excuses – let’s make that clear. Gary Kirsten, Paddy Upton and Hashim Amla share very similar values and they do not entertain excuses. They take responsibility for their actions and the consequences thereof and they expect nothing less from their colleagues.

There are reasons, however. Reasons are different to excuses. Neither Richard Levi nor Lonwabo Tsotsobe would have been left out of the starting XI had it been selected on form. JP Duminy, perfect for a pitch as slow and ‘grippy’ as this one, had returned to South Africa, as was always planned. Never mind the fact that another four definite starters never even came to Zimbabwe.

Kirsten originally asked Zimbabwe for ‘practise’ matches because “real game time is the best way to prepare.” The fact that a low-key, bilateral friendly turned into a televised triangular with sponsors and prize-money played right into SA’s hands. The closer the simulation to the “real” thing, the more valuable the exercise. And the more painful and “real” is the pain of defeat.

Just as Wayne Parnell bounced back from a thoroughly embarrassing shellacking (4-0-61-0) by Bangladesh in the opening match, so Farhaan Berhardien (16 from 26 balls, no boundaries) will have to find a way to bounce back from an innings that was as pitiful as it was ineffectual. He is a good cricketer. He just needs to remember that everyone has a bad day. The only difference between good players and very good ones is their bounce-back ability from bad days.

Yet more catches were dropped, the bowling was wild and erratic, the general batting effort was dismal. In short, it was comfortably the worst T20 performance by a team in South African colours since the format started. That it was unofficial and will not count on their records should not matter to them. The lessons they learn and the way they put those lessons into practice is what matters.

Incidentally, that old adage about learning more lessons in defeat is, or was true because teams traditionally celebrate victories and analyse defeats. Coaches and captains have always asked questions like: “What did we do wrong?” and “Why did we lose?” They have been less inclined to ask: “What did we do right?” and “Why did we win?”

Hopefully, they can do that on Saturday and Sunday!

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