Nathan Coulter-Nile, Steve Smith and Mitchell Starc were the chief architects of Australia’s ‘la decima’ – 10 ODI wins on the spin. After Coulter-Nile and Smith did it with the bat, Starc bagged a five-for, as Australia eked out a hard-fought victory in their World Cup fixture against West Indies at Trent Bridge. Their golden run in One-Day International, is basically a story of a happy unit, support staff included, working in unison.
This column is not about Australia’s recent success. Rather, it’s about South Africa, a team that looks to be in crisis after three successive defeats at the ongoing World Cup. But as we would move along, the prelude is necessary to capture the contrast.
Over the past 18-odd months, starting January 1, 2018, Starc has featured in just nine ODIs. Injuries had been a reason why the left-arm tearaway quick from New South Wales missed a hell lot of international cricket. But credit to the Cricket Australia (CA) and the Australian team management that they didn’t push their premier fast bowler. Starc was allowed to recover at his own pace and play at his own comfort. The Australian cricket setup managed him brilliantly to ensure he goes full throttle at the quadrennial showpiece.
Over to South Africa now, and the trouble started with Dale Steyn’s premature exit from the Cup without playing a game. At 36 years of age, Steyn is in the autumn of his career, and he has been struggling with injuries over the past three seasons. That he still came to play the IPL before the World Cup was a wrong choice made by the entire South African cricket setup including the player. Steyn played only two games in the IPL before yet again picking up a right shoulder injury. “Unfortunately, it happened there in the IPL in those two games that he played there. If he didn’t get picked up to go to the IPL, who knows where Dale would have been right now,” South Africa captain Faf du Plessis lamented. But the damage was done.
Lungi Ngidi, an exciting young fast bowler, clutched his hamstring and left the field during South Africa’s second World Cup match against Bangladesh. The Proteas badly missed Steyn’s experience and Ngidi’s enthusiasm on a responsive pitch against India. Two frontline fast bowlers breaking down during the World Cup didn’t send the right message. Something is wrong somewhere.
Former South Africa fast bowler Fanie de Villiers agreed. He, in fact, laid into the system, as he spoke with this correspondent.“I think I’m very disappointed how they (South Africa) have bowled and I’m disappointed in that they are not performing to the standards they should be performing. Your bowlers are going for 60-plus runs in 10 overs; that’s 10-12-15 runs more than their averages, and the reason for this is the fitness level. We are struggling to keep our bowlers fit.”
“The system is disappointing not to make sure that the bowlers stay fit and strong enough to cope with today’s demands. And they need to really have a look at what it is, because if you have got bowlers the way we have, who are always injured and always not available and always not ready, and they don’t get enough game time because of the injuries, I’m afraid, you need to have a look at the bigger system. That’s monitoring, controlling, helping, supporting those players to the level that they should be supported,” de Villiers, who played 83 ODIs, apart from 18 Tests, in the 1990s and finished with a miserly economy rate of 3.57, observed.
Close on the heels of South Africa’s loss against India, came the news that AB de Villiers wanted to return from his international retirement and play the World Cup. But he was reportedly told by skipper du Plessis, coach Ottis Gibson and convenor of selectors Linda Zondi that it wouldn’t be possible. Zondi reportedly told de Villiers to make himself available for the home series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan to be considered for the World Cup selection. Bonkers! The South African cricket hierarchy should have had the intelligence to understand that a legend, and still a match-winner, like de Villiers is allowed to pick and choose. The greats do things on their own terms. To draw a football analogy, Argentina wouldn’t have won the 1986 World Cup if Carlos Bilardo—then Argentina manager—had the same set of rules for Pedro Pasculli and Diego Maradona. No disrespect to Rassie van der Dussen, who is batting at No. 4 for South Africa at the World Cup. But replacing de Villiers with him is like junking a Ferrari for a budget car. The Saffers are paying the price.
Talent-drain through the Kolpak route is another issue which is seriously hurting South Africa cricket. The quota policy—six non-whites in the national team—is a reason why the likes of Duanne Olivier, Kyle Abbott, Rilee Rossouw and several others have decided to end their international career and choose County cricket. Olivier and Abbott would have walked into the South African World Cup squad. The present situation doesn’t look rosy. Hope needs to be restored for the future.