Poor Decision Making costs more games than bat and ball

The Eastern Cape has the largest cricket catchment area in the country which means, amongst others things, that many people drive from far and wide to watch an international when they come to town. Which isn’t very often in the case of Buffalo Park.

Nonetheless, it was heartening to see both St.George’s and Buffalo Park packed for the third and fourth ODIs although not everyone in Port Elizabeth seemed happy about the ‘quality’ of the product they were paying to see.

“I got up at 5:00am to drive here from Queenstown with my two boys,” an irate father told me shortly before the start of play, “and then we get told that Dale Steyn is in Cape Town and Hashim Amla is in Durban. How can that be right?”

The emotion was raw but genuine. And his point was well made. “Well, at least AB is playing,” I said, trying to be cheerful. It didn’t work.

Later, during the morning’s play, I received a Tweet from another man asking what I thought about the fact that he had paid R160 to watch his hero and hometown favourite, AB de Villiers, in the final match at Centurion. Both men had bought their tickets a long time before the series had been decided and the Proteas implemented their rest and rotation policy.

Much as I sympathise with the diminished returns from their once-a-year investment, all I could offer in reply was: “You’re not guaranteed to see Wayne Rooney if you buy a ticket at Old Trafford. You pay to watch Manchester United and the Proteas, not Rooney and Steyn. Or De Villiers.”

Perhaps the burning question is: ‘Do the star players really need to be rested?’ It is not one I am qualified to answer. But there is a highly qualified group of people qualified in biokinetics and cricket who are charged with making those decisions – the ‘workload management’ team – and they have, by and large, been doing a very good job.

Rotating the squad doesn’t just benefit those who get a rest. It benefits those who become rusty with bat and ball while carrying drinks. Not just with bat and ball, for that matter.

Cricket “thinking” is just as important. Cricket decisions made on the spur of the moment aren’t as frequent as you be led to believe. Usually there are minutes to consider your options. Like when Wayne Parnell faced the final ball of the 49th over with David Miller 128* at the other end, all set to take advantage of the 50th. It was critical that Miller had the last over to himself.

Parnell needed to swing hard in pursuit of a boundary. If he failed, he needed to make sure it wasn’t a single. Instead, he carefully pushed the ball into the covers and ran one. He swung hard at the first ball of the final over and missed, and was bowled by the second. Miller faced only the final ball of the innings and the Proteas scored three runs off the 50th over.

The quality of decision-making determines the outcome of far more matches than brilliant batting or bowling. It’s just that most people don’t see it, or recognise it. Miller played the innings of his international career but also missed three balls outside off-stump with third man inside the circle. Instead of launching into cover drives, the slightest touch of bat would have brought him a boundary.

But the biggest problem is death bowling. And that’s more a case of executing skills than making clear decisions. Which is why it is the biggest problem.

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