JOHANNESBURG – The Australians did a couple of things against England which fell into those ‘best of the tournament’ categories we can all start to discuss now as the World Cup prepares to reach its climax.
Mitchell Starc produced the ‘ball of the tournament’ to knock over Ben Stokes and the defending champions also delivered the best fielding display of the tournament, to constrict the hosts.
It was that element of Australia’s play that got me thinking on Tuesday evening: ‘That used to be South Africa.’
The South African team was once pioneers in fielding.
They set trends and standards that other teams tried to match. Those other teams have surpassed South Africa now in that category.
Among numerous other elements - some arguably more important than fielding - that need resolving, Cricket South Africa would do well to set up a review and construct a new plan to improve the standard of fielding in this country.
It is not a Justin Ontong issue. The Proteas fielding coach is the last person in the queue on this particular topic.
He inherits players and their fielding habits at national level. Rather this is a broader problem for the game in this country. I’ve lost count of the number of times franchise coaches, captains and senior players have mentioned how “our fielding let us down,” when assessing their play.
And it’s not because they are not putting in the training either.
The Highveld Lions and the Titans - the two teams in Gauteng - certainly spend a lot of hours training and practicing fielding drills. The benefits are however rarely seen in matches.
The standard of South African fielding in the last three years has fallen alarmingly and improvement in that regard is critical. It is one area in which tangible results can be quickly measured.
For that to happen, there needs to be an overall assessment done of fielding, from training methods to technique (movement - in the inner-ring and on the boundary - throwing and catching) and that must occur from junior, to provincial, franchise, SA A and national team level.
South Africa went to the World Cup backing the bowling as being the major weapon, but the main support for that weapon - the fielding - hasn’t been working properly for two years.
Last summer the quality of the Proteas fielding was desperately poor. Dropping four catches in the first hour of the third day of the last Test against Pakistan at the Wanderers and dropping five catches in the third ODI also against Pakistan were the most obvious public illustrations of the problems the Proteas had in an area of the game in which they used to set the standard.
And at the World Cup, it came back and bit them hard, with their best fielder David Miller (who, remember, picked up a Player of the Match award in a T20 International because of his fielding) missing three catches in the tournament and a few run out opportunities.
Of course there are a number of problems that need resolving whenever Cricket SA gets through its various reports about the team’s failure in England. Getting to grips with the standard of fielding, won’t be at the top of their list of priorities, but it can’t be casually dismissed.
For that has happened in recent years and look where it’s left all of the country’s national teams.