CENTURION – It’s one thing to call on the public to understand as the Proteas go through this experimentation phase with their one-day side, but it’s quite another to expect viewers to comprehend when the players’ attitudes appears as soft as it did during an eight-wicket defeat to India on Friday.
Ottis Gibson bemoaned the lack of fight shown by his players in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday, but this capitulation with the bat was arguably worse as the visitors clinched the series 5-1.
Aside from Khaya Zondo, the rest of the Proteas were awful, and the manner in which they gifted their wickets to the Indians was atrocious as they were bowled out for just 204 in 46.5 overs.
Where was that pride they were supposedly playing for?
Not one of the South African batsmen can look themselves in the mirror without feeling a bit of shame.
In fact, over the course of India’s tour (encompassing this six-match series and the three Tests prior), Faf du Plessis’ 120 in the first ODI in Durban is the only hundred.
Virat Kohli has scored three on his own.
Friday’s was another imperious performance, his unbeaten 129 coming off just 96 balls, with 19 fours and two sixes – part of a ludicrous return of 558 runs in the six ODIs, the most ever scored in a bilateral series, as India reached 206/2 in 32.1 overs.
The Proteas’ batting coach Dale Benkenstein must be wondering what manner of task he’s taken on here. And to be fair to him, none of what took place on Friday can be blamed on him.
Not Hashim Amla failing to properly execute a hook shot, not Aiden Markram, nor any of the other five batsmen who drove the ball in the air in the cover region – nor whatever it was AB de Villiers was trying to do against Yuzvendra Chahal.
Although the format will be different, Australia’s bowlers must be salivating at the prospect of having a go at this batting line-up – Dean Elgar being the exception.
It was the collective lack of mental fortitude that stood out as far as the Proteas batting was concerned.
The World Cup, as Amla and De Villiers can attest, is a high-pressure environment, and if this is the kind of fragility that South Africa are displaying, then never mind just casting the selection net wider, coach Ottis Gibson has a great deal more that he needs to improve.
One aspect of the problem is that as Benkenstein said after the second match – which De Villiers and Du Plessis missed due to injury – this was South Africa’s next best group of players.
There were calls for Farhaan Behardien to be given a chance, but he too like the rest of them and gave his wicket away with an awful shot early in his innings on Friday. Behardien and Zondo were given opportunities, in place of the terribly inconsistent duo of JP Duminy and David Miller, and only Zondo really stated his case with a gritty half-century (54 off 74 balls, 3x4, 2x6).
He played spinners Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav reasonably well, attacking them mainly off the back foot.
And given the sparse returns for South African batsmen in this series – Zondo’s was just the third half-century by a Proteas player – he would be justified in believing that he is worthy of another opportunity when South Africa’s next ODI assignment rolls around in Sri Lanka in August.
According to selection convener Linda Zondi, once that series is complete, all experimenting ends and he and the coaching staff, along with Du Plessis, want to focus on a group of about 18, which they will cull further next summer.
There are – depending on whether the Proteas take on Australia in November – 21 ODIs on the schedule before the World Cup that starts in May 2019.
Gibson and Zondi could not have imagined their plans going this far awry just 15 months out from that tournament.