SA’s season enough to drive fans to drink

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

SA have endured a dry season in whites and they were scarcely semi-sweet in the other formats. The World T20 is still raw but the unpalatable truth is that they have played below what they are considered to be for most of the season.

The first-round exit from the WT20 has left sourness in South Africans’ mouths that will linger. But the sobering truth is that the 2015-16 vintage is plonk, good enough to swell a papsak and not much more.

Played 41, won 20, lost 17, drew four – SA’s record in all formats starting with the tour to Bangladesh in July – is the stuff of mediocrity. It is not the story of a team at or near the apex of the international game.

That they were among the last four teams standing at the World Cup last March and, officially, the best test side as recently as January are mere memories now.

Russell Domingo is at the centre of all that, the name on the curled lips of many. It’s his fault, the refrain goes, him and his coach-by-numbers approach and his record of zero first-class – nevermind international – matches played.

Domingo is too easy a target, not least because he is seen in certain quarters as an undeserving beneficiary of affirmative action. 

Funny how no-one thought of pointing out anything of the sort when he guided SA to victory in a World Cup knockout game for the first time against Sri Lanka in Sydney last March.

But that was then. This is now. As the coach Domingo is the designated statue for the birds to aim at when things go wrong.

Not that what the rest of us think should matter too much. Are his players happy, Domingo was asked when SA returned home from the WT20.

“The team buy into exactly the way things are happening at the moment,” he said. “As far as I can see, it’s a pretty happy team. I know the players support me, I have got a very good relationship with the players.

“There are always going to be coaches who lose games at World Cups. The management we have put together is as as good as any in the world. I am pretty confident it’s the right management team to take the team forward.” 

Domingo’s words shuddered with the angst of a man who can see the electric chair he is shuffling towards even as he wills the telephone on the wall to ring with a reprieve. But it’s too late for that. 

The nature of sport is cyclical. No team can keep winning forever, but it’s as if this SA team’s cycle was never completed. They went from its top to its bottom as if they had been tipped off the edge of a cliff.

It’s a long way down, and it promises to be an even longer way back up for a team who now know just how rudely and unexpectedly the bubble can be burst.

Remember the tour to Bangladesh? Specifically the one-day series? By then SA had won the T20 rubber 2-0, and handsomely. Another trophy was on the way in the ODIs, surely, and they duly won the first match.

That trophy never arrived in SA’s dressingroom. Somehow, they lost the last two matches. The ostriches looked deep into the sand and decided Bangladesh won because they had become a much better team. The converse was true: SA were already far from the team they used to be.

A rain-ruined test series left the point hanging as moot as an unanswered knock at the door. 

Back at home against New Zealand, SA shared the T20 rubber and won the ODIs. Normal service? Was that you knocking?

Hopes that that was the case grew when SA swept through India, winning both series in the short formats. Then came the tests …

Say what you will about India’s groundsmen cheating their team’s way to victory, or Ravichandran Ashwin’s mesmerising bowling, or Virat Kohli’s priceless ability to turn arrogance into bold decisions, SA’s shortcomings in all departments were glaring.

Just as they were in the home test series against England, who beat them properly. They took a little of the sting out of that defeat by emerging on top in the T20s and ODIs.

Then the Australians arrived to set the record straight in another T20 rubber, which they won with disturbing ease.

How easily? Easily enough to make you crack open a bottle of the good stuff and turn off the lights.

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