CAPE TOWN – Barely a fortnight ago, South Africa were the leading side in One-Day Cricket. In fact, they are still officially ranked at the summit of the ICC rankings.
They were a team that boasted stars aplenty. Both with bat and ball, while at the same time puffing out their chests about their new abundance of all-rounders who could handle both skills equally well.
Recent whitewashes were achieved over current (Australia) and former (Sri Lanka) world champions with the swagger that 5-0 brings with it. Even demons on foreign shores were slayed through victory in a series-decider at the graveyard – Eden Park – where the 2015 World Cup dreams are buried.
But a few weeks under the grey skies of England and it seems all the confidence built up has been washed away. The series defeat to the ICC Champions Trophy hosts in the build-up to the on-going tournament was forgiven, for one eye was surely on the bigger challenges that lay ahead.
But now that the Proteas have surrendered to a Pakistan side that only qualified for the Champions Trophy by the skin of its teeth, former captain Graeme Smith has been left dumbfounded about what is really troubling the Proteas.
“I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, but there just appears to be something missing from our play on this tour so far. It may well be that the squad are slightly underdone in terms of the amount of cricket they’ve played as a unit in recent months, but even so, the loss to Pakistan will be tough for the boys to take,” Smith said in his column for www.icc-cricket.com.
South Africa’s street-smartness was certainly under scrutiny on a worn Edgbaston track on Wednesday. Not only was the batsmen’s effort of 219/8 well below par, but then the bowlers failed to take anything from the Pakistan bowlers’ heroics earlier in the day.
“Where Pakistan were clever was in assessing the conditions quickly, and certainly more effectively than the South Africa batsmen. It realised that the track was a used pitch that was slightly slower than it might have been, adjusting to bowl very straight and offer little width for the South Africa batting line-up to dine out on,” Smith explained.
“Hassan Ali is a hugely impressive bowler. He bowls with pace, and the skill involved to come around the wicket and take the ball away from the left handers is a handy one to possess. He looks to take wickets rather than simply contain, and made a big impact with the ball.”
Proteas captain AB de Villiers had dismissed Pakistan’s spin options as “part-timers” in the pre-match presser and Smith certainly believed that came back to haunt South Africa.
“Mohammad Hafeez and Imad Wasim bowled beautifully, and managed to put South Africa’s batsmen under consistent pressure, which Sri Lanka didn’t manage at The Oval,” Smith said.
“As a batting side under pressure, losing wickets in clusters is something you have to prevent if you’re to have any hope of constructing a challenging total. We (South Africa) just seemed to lose wickets at bad times and at regular intervals, with Pakistan forcing players to try and use their initiative or play across the line in order to score quickly.”
With only the do-or-die game to come against defending champions India on Sunday, Smith believes Morne Morkel’s good form is the one positive South Africa can take into the clash.
“When he’s in that mood and finds his rhythm, he can be one of the most dangerous strike bowlers in the game. He has that ability to take a game by the scuff of the neck and make something happen.
“It wasn’t enough on Wednesday, as Pakistan could afford to be more cautious in its approach when batting, but his form could be key against India’s formidable batting powerhouse.
"To sum up, it was simply a poor day for South Africa. It’ll know where it needs to improve and has a few days to focus on what is now a hugely important game on Sunday,” Smith added.