For those wondering where the Proteas of old at this ICC Cricket World Cup were hiding themselves, they need not bother to look any further after last night’s calamitous effort against the Netherlands.
The Proteas, who had departed tradition by playing with controlled efficiency and no little chutzpah in their opening two matches in India, returned to their former World Cup selves by being stunningly awful.
They were bowled out for 207 in response to the Netherlands’ 245/8, in the process suffering a 38-run defeat.
In a match reduced to 43 overs due to pre-game showers, and on a surface that kept all the batters honest, the Proteas were caught cold in the hills of Himachal Pradesh by a fervent Dutch outfit that have now repeated their Adelaide party trick from the ICC T20 World Cup last year.
And almost to script it was the irrepressible Roelof van der Merwe (2/34) that came back to haunt his birth country, and the nation he’d previously represented in 26 white-ball internationals.
It was also only a few months ago that Van der Merwe was raising the Betway SA20 trophy with the likes of Proteas captain Temba Bavuma, Aiden Markram and Marco Jansen at the Sunrisers Eastern Cape.
Now “The Bulldog” was biting chunks out of the Proteas’ by initially launching a stunning comeback in a 64-run stand for the eighth wicket with Dutch captain Scott Edwards (78* off 69 balls) with 29 off just 19 balls (3x4, 1x6) before removing both Bavuma (18) and Rassie van der Dussen (4) in quick succession to set in motion an almighty batting collapse.
He should have had David Miller (43) too, but it was left to Logan van Beek (3/60) to deliver the coup de grace when the medium-pacer slipped through Miller’s defence.
But for all Van der Merwe, Van Beek and the rest of the Dutch team’s competitive spirit and skill, the Proteas were their own worst enemies on the night.
It began with a bowling unit whose disciplines went walkabout in conceding 32 extras — the second highest total on the Dutch scoreboard — and then failed to respond to the pressure that Van der Merwe and Edwards were inflicting during the final 10 overs.
And yet it was all seemingly going according to plan when the Dutch were reduced to 140/7 at one stage.
But instead of being clinical from hereon, the Proteas fumbled a couple of catches and offered up wide and short deliveries that allowed the Netherlands to muster together a total that gave them just that glimmer of hope that it could be a night to remember.
And indeed it was.
The Dutch support staff is made up of a plethora of South Africans in the form of head coach Ryan Cook and his assistants Heino Kuhn, Shane Burger and Ryan van Niekerk.
They certainly came prepared for the meeting with their more illustrious compatriots with a specific plan of action for each Proteas batter. In fact, after each Proteas wicket to fall, Max O’Dowd would run to the dugout to fetch a sheet of paper which plotted the next match-up.
But the real beauty was in the execution of the Dutch bowlers.
The in-form Quinton de Kock (20) may have been unfortunate to be caught behind with the ball ricocheting off his gloves, but the remainder of the Proteas batters simply could not live with the immaculate line and lengths they encountered.
The Dutch delivered just four wides throughout the Proteas innings, unlike Marco Jansen and Lungi Ngidi who sent down a half a dozen extras each.
The only consolation for the Proteas is that unlike Adelaide last year where the Dutch sent them directly to the T20 World Cup departure lounge, there is still some time to rectify their mistakes.
On the basis of last night, there is much to do, especially with a heavyweight clash against an equally wounded England on the horizon.