It’s not easy to enjoy being thrashed and it’s impossible to predict what may happen in the weeks to come, but the loss to England should be enjoyed and there’s nothing wrong with predicting a bleak future in the next four weeks. It is human nature to react strongly and one of the reasons we follow sport so avidly.
Victory and success is celebrated precisely because of days like the opening match of the World Cup. South Africa were so thoroughly outplayed it was embarrassing at the end. Even at my eighth World Cup and after a thousand or so ODIs, I had to fight back an instinct to believe a semi final place was a vainglorious dream.
Enjoying the feeling of defeat is like identifying the moment you go to sleep. In both cases you hope to emerge in a better place, having enjoyed a good night’s rest and reflecting on a bad result after a couple of wins. After a thrashing and a sleepless night perspective is hard to find, but let’s give it a go.
The plan to open the bowling with Imran Tahir was hatched a year ago, apparently, and it worked a treat with the early wicket of Jonny Bairstow. The pitch didn’t behave as anyone had expected and both Kagison Rabada and Lungi Ngidi bowled the wrong length. But all of the bowlers learned quickly, adapted and came up with the right strategy. The fielding display was tidy – polished, even.
Hashim Amla was woefully late with a hook shot against a Jofra Archer bouncer and had to retire hurt. Archer deliberately bowls at 80% pace for three or four balls before delivering his bouncer at 100% to enhance its effect. Amla is 36 and has been struggling for form and runs for the last 18 months. The brace of 50s he scored in the warm-up matches were technically sound but flattered to deceive. Fast bowlers don’t bowl fast in warm-up matches.
Faf du Plessis said afterwards that Amla’s premature departure unsettled the run chase but did not exclude himself and Aiden Markram from responsibility. They both played poor shots. Nonetheless, at 129-2 chasing 312, there was a real chance of victory with a required run rate of below seven. It required Quinton de Kock to bat for the remainder of the innings.
When the wheels fall off, as they did, the resulting crash inevitably looks more spectacular than it might have had wickets not been tamely thrown away and the white flag waved so meekly. It was a soft surrender with an uncharacteristic refusal to do the hard work required. It was also a bloody good all round performance by England whose players were entirely prepared to work hard when required.
So, back to the subject of enjoyment. Perhaps it is perverted or fetishist to suggest that genuine supporters should take pleasure from what happened at the Oval but they should at least try to appreciate it as part of the journey and the landscape. As disappointed as they may be, the emotions of the players run far deeper. They know they failed to live up to their pre-tournament pledge to “do their best.”
Much as it hurt to lose so heavily, it would – ironically – have been easier to accept if England had simply been that much better than them on the day. But du Plessis and his men were nowhere near their best, they made poor decisions with the bat and they have some tough selection choices coming up. Nobody said the World Cup would be easy.
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