South Africa’s international cricketers have been fervent practisers over the years which is why, particularly in the one day game, they have come close to looking like the perfect unit. But practice routines must change because the game changes. Sport changes.
Fast bowlers had to perfect the yorker in the early 90s because that was the best way to stop batsmen from scoring. Then batsmen learned to step back towards their stumps in order to get ‘under’ those deliveries and they began to score again.
Slower balls and other variations, like off-cutters, were at a premium in the mid-90s and a bowler who couldn’t vary his pace became a liability, particularly in the opening and closing overs of an innings.
Batsmen have been required to adapt their game just as much as the bowlers and those unable or unwilling to learn new tricks have been found out sooner or later because there will always be bowlers striving for the ‘edge’.
There are many reasons for South Africa’s shocking capitulation to India in the ICC Champions Trophy semi-final here in Colombo and some involved passages of play well before the final five overs of the match. Jacques Kallis was unable to accelerate his innings when required, for example. Was that because his tactics were inflexible or because he was relying on the devastating hitting of Lance Klusener?
Which brings us back to the final five overs.
Indian skipper Saurav Ganguly could not have had it easier in the closing stages of the match. It may have looked like he was in a tactical mire with five and six-man tactical consultations preceding every second ball of South Africa’s slow and embarrassing demise, but that was far from the case. He was completely in control and loving it. He was rubbing it in.
The reason is simple: Klusener was at the crease. And Klusener can’t play slow bowling. Let alone attack it. The reason? Klusener doesn’t practise against slow bowling.
Zulu practised manfully and spectacularly against fast and medium paced bowling before the 1999 World Cup and the result, hopefully, will never be forgotten because he belted the life out of the world’s best, time and time again, and gave us all many extremely happy memories. And one horrific one, of course.
It took a couple of years but finally, South Africa’s opposition figured out that Klusener needed pace to be effective in the final, crucial overs. And since they have started bowling extra slow, ‘nothing’ stuff to him the flame has flickered and died. Klusener still practises his big-hitting these days but it is always against medium paced ‘throw-downs’. He likes facing slow bowling as much as six-year-olds enjoy eating spinach.
Is it too late for Zulu? Hopefully not. But if he is to make the 2003 World Cup squad he is going to have to start eating his greens. Otherwise, that is all he will be fed by every team he comes up against.
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