Q.1: Why did South Africa lose the ODI series to New Zealand?
James Franklin AB’s suspension for 2 games following the slow over-rate in the first. They may have lost the only game he’d played in and may have won one of the games he hadn’t played in but that line of argument only serves to obscure the point of how reliant the brittle middle order is on him. At least, the one win would have been achieved with more consummate ease than requiring a last ball six.
Q.2: Would South Africa have been knocked out of the World Cup by New Zealand if AB hadn’t run himself out?, and what is a choke?
A: Most definitely not. They would have gone on to win the game by 6 wickets. The way the South African team operates is either Amla fires at the top and makes it easy from the beginning, or Amla fails and makes it tight at the top before AB sees them through, or Amla fails and AB fails and the rest follow suit. There may be an exception once a year, but that’s what it is: an exception. A choke is when AB falls and the rest of the order lose their sense of direction and judgment. I don’t blame the likes of Faf, Behardien, Mclaren, Robin Peterson for failing to take their team across the line- I genuinely expect them to fail to do that; if anything, I blame AB for leaving them with an unfinished, however-easy-it-may-appear-on-paper, task.
Q.3: Is AB the right man for the captaincy?
A: I am a bit conflicted about this. On the one hand, he averages more than 90 when playing as a captain, and more than 100 when playing as a captain cum wicket-keeper. On the other hand, he’s their most important spoke in the batting wheel and any suspensions accruing from over-rate misdemeanors would result in instant mayhem and prompt elimination. Imagine a scenario where he gets suspended for the knock-out games in an ICC event like the upcoming Champions Trophy- what chance do they have then of chasing down a total of 200 or more? Nil. Also, the choices he makes as a skipper on the field are suspect*. There’s no reason to believe his batting will suffer if stripped of captaincy but the most pragmatic and least divisive thing to do would be to adopt the Lankan style of fixing a dummy captain to counter the threat of suspensions.
Q.4: Over reliance on Amla and AB aside, what other problems do you find with this South African side?
A: The bowling attack. Robin Peterson, in particular. I wanted him out of the test team even though he won the man of the match award for the 2nd test against Pakistan. I feel the same way about his presence in the ODI team too. At best, he can contribute a little with the bat and take the total from a meandering 180 to a more respectable 220. At norm, he’ll come on and help the opposition batsmen settle in and improve their strike rates. Although Ryan Mclaren had a fruitful series against Pakistan, I for one am yet to be convinced. The wickets he takes- he doesn’t take them, the batsmen gift them. Dale Steyn is all brimstone and fire but with a white ball in hand, the wickets column refuses to move beyond the binary system (his last 16 outings- 1,1,1,1,1,1,0,1,2,2,0,0,1,1,1,1). As for Tsotsobe, the erstwhile no.1 limited overs bowler, we don’t know what went wrong; were his earlier performances just a glitch? Kyle Abbott isn’t nearly ready but one tweaker always pops up in my imagination when I picture a limited overs bowling attack savior. His name is Reolof Van Der Merwe and he can bring some much needed bite to the attack if he dares to give the ball a bit more flight.
Q.5: How would you rate the chances of this team in the Champions Trophy?
A: Even with the return of the likes of Graeme, Jacques, and JP, I don’t see their batting moving beyond Amla and AB. The bowling attack will continue to struggle to pick up wickets and the last time they played a Champions Trophy in England, they were eliminated over 2 days by the West Indies in the first round. I don’t think they’ll win. I see pressure getting to them, as always.
* Most darning evidence was the game against Pakistan in the T20 WC.
(Behardien and Davy Miller look more at ease when hitting the leather off the ball, and Colin Ingram continues to be nothing more than a couple of good looking shots through the covers.)