TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
IT’S over. SA’s World T20 campaign, that is, which sputtered to a sticky end in Delhi on Saturday when England beat Sri Lanka by 10 runs.
That result means Delhi will host an irrelevance on Monday. Whatever SA do in their last group game, against the Lankans, will not be enough to put Faf du Plessis’ team in the semi-finals.
The only other instance of SA falling out of the running for the knockout rounds before completing their group matches in the 18 editions of the World Cup, Champions Trophy and WT20 they have contested came at the 2012 WT20.
SA are in this unhappy place because their batting and bowling units have taken turns to fall apart.
Against England in Mumbai 10 days ago their bowlers lost the plot and with it their lines and their discipline, conceding 20 runs in wides. Against West Indies in Nagpur on Friday their batsmen failed to turn up, dwindling to 122/8 on a pitch Du Plessis admitted was “actually a normal wicket”.
And that was all this edition of the WT20 wrote for SA. The format means two strikes and, probably, you’re out.
“We’re not playing close to how good we are or can be and that’s frustrating,” Du Plessis said after the Windies emerged on the right side of the equation by three wickets and with two balls to spare in a low-scoring streetfight of a match.
“We want to be better. Unfortunately we’re not producing the goods on the day. You need a bit of luck but also you make your own luck, and I feel if you win those small moments in the game generally the luck goes your way.
“I’m disappointed because I had strong hopes of winning the tournament and now we’re hoping for other performances to go our way.
“We’ll obviously be rooting for some opposition to try and do us a favour. But if it doesn’t happen like that there’s no excuses – we didn’t produce how we should have produced.”
Sri Lanka didn’t do SA that favour on Saturday. That’s that, then. Except that it isn’t.
AB de Villiers opened the batting in his last six T20s before the tournament and was set to do so in India, so much so that the debate before the WT20 centered on whether Quinton de Kock or Hashim Amla should partner him at the top of the order.
Indeed, on March 3, when Du Plessis was asked whether De Villiers could be moved to No. 3 to make room for both De Kock and Amla, he said, “We’ve planned for this World Cup for two years and now, a week before the World Cup, to start to change those plans is not for me.
“I’m not that kind of guy. So, for me, a week before the World Cup, that is not really an option.”
After Friday’s match, Du Plessis said much the same thing: “We want him (De Villiers) in in those first six overs. We decided on AB at the top a while ago and to change that would be a sign of panic.
“I think our strongest team is with AB at the top in India.”
Odd, then, that De Villiers batted at No. 3 against England, No. 4 against Afghanistan and No. 5 against West Indies.
As for the six-over theory, De Villiers came to the crease in the eighth over against England and the 10th against Afghanistan. He took guard in fourth over against the Windies, but because SA had slumped to 20/3. Mystifyingly, Rilee Rossouw – who had not featured in the first two games – was sent in ahead of him.
Then there’s Dale Steyn. Or rather, there isn’t. The leader of SA’s attack for much of the past 10 years, the bowler who was carefully nursed to the tournament after suffering injuries, the man whose eyes burn with the fire of this proud team, has sat in the dugout for two games now.
Whatever is going on in SA’s dressingroom? The question is disturbing enough, but not nearly as much as the answer could be.