TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
IT’S a not a good idea to draw lessons from matches that don’t matter and have no business being played, but South Africans would have found the temptation difficult to resist after their team’s World T20 match against Sri Lanka in Delhi on Monday.
That SA won by eight wickets with 14 balls to spare meant significantly less than the fact that both teams have been out of the running for the semi-finals since Saturday, when the Lankans lost to England.
“I’m very baffled,” Faf du Plessis said with particular reference to SA’s first match, against England in Mumbai on March 18, when they failed to defend 230.
“What do we need to do? It feels like one of those nightmares where you can’t get your pads on and you can’t get to the crease.
“You play that game 10 times in a row and you’re probably going to lose once.”
But once was enough to put SA on a plane back home instead of to the semis. Which might not have been the case had SA put their faith in less emphatic bowlers earlier in the tournament.
On Monday the unemphatic Aaron Phangiso, Imran Tahir and Farhaan Behardien took 5/59 in 11 overs between them. They had taken all of those wickets before the end of the 14th over to, with the help of a runout, reduce Sri Lanka to 85/6.
Phangiso was on a hattrick, both of his victims bowled – Lahiru Thirimanne by a ripper that pitched outside the left-hander’s off-stump, hit the top of leg, and made millions wonder why Phangiso has spent his career fiddling with variations of flight and pace instead of turning the ball like that delivery certainly did.
Tahir was as watertight as SA have come to depend on him to be. Behardien, in his only game of the tournament, counted Tillakaratne Dilshan as one of his two wickets.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the emphasis divide, Dale Steyn, Kyle Abbott and David Wiese combined for 2/59 in 8.3 overs.
Perhaps that was the mix of bowlers SA should have put out there all along: Sri Lanka’s total of 120 marked the first time in this WT20 that a team batting first had been bowled out.
Something similar happened when SA batted in that Hashim Amla and Du Plessis, two of the least flashy players in all the game, did most of the chasing in their second-wicket stand of 60 – which came off 55 balls, featured only six fours and no sixes, and was fashioned from what batsmen a century ago would have recognised as cricket strokes.
Perhaps relentless accumulation and more reliance on orthodoxy would have been a better approach than trying to hit too many balls as hard and as outrageously as possible.
The partnership was ended by umpire Sundaram Ravi, who somehow failed to see the thick edge that Du Plessis steered onto his pad and sawed him off leg-before for 31.
That brought AB de Villiers to the crease on the wings of rousing cheers from the neutral crowd. He did not disappoint them with a hard-hit 20 not out that included the winning runs – a six blazed over midwicket.
Amla stood tallest and unbeaten on 56, an innings for any age. The match did not matter and shouldn’t have been played, but who would forego the chance to see a master at work?