TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
ON Wednesday, not for the first time in the triseries, SA will face a team still sweaty and smiling from the victory they achieved in their previous match.
Last Tuesday that team was Australia, who went into their game against SA having thumped West Indies by six wickets without needing 24.2 overs of their innings. But AB de Villiers’ team played ballsy cricket to beat the Aussies by 47 runs.
This time, SA will be up against the Windies, who beat Australia by four wickets with 26 balls to spare on Monday.
That result made the home side the only team in the tournament not to have lost for a second time. If SA want to even that score with West Indies in St Kitts on Wednesday they will likely have to do something they have not nailed down in any of their games: bat properly.
Three times SA have expected big things from their batsmen. Three times their batsmen have fallen short. They should thank their gods, then, for the bowlers.
SA’s win over Australia, their only success in the triseries, was achieved by an attack that fought like a yowling cat cornered in a space just 190 runs big.
A game later the bowlers curbed Steve Smith’s men to 288/6 when they should have soared past 300. Then SA lost their last seven wickets for 42 runs, the last five for just 16, and the match by 36 runs.
“Obviously we are very disappointed after our last game,” Hashim Amla told reporters in St Kitts. “We got ourselves into a very good position to win it and we didn’t quite take it through and that was very disappointing.
“As a team we have always backed ourselves for somebody in the top six to take it through and bat as deep as possible but it wasn’t to be and we lost some wickets at crucial times and that cost us.
“It’s the responsibility of the batsmen. That’s what we enjoy doing and that’s what we would like to do.
“We didn’t manage to do it in this game and I guess that does happen occasionally where you are not going to get it right but we want to get it right as often as we can.”
Occasionally? Not quite. SA’s batting failures have become the norm at the triseries. In Providence, where they played their first two games, the problem could be hidden behind conditions that must have made the spinners wonder when they would wake up from the dream. That doesn’t hold in St Kitts.
“It’s a higher scoring ground than in Guyana, where 200 was a good total,” Amla said. “Here 260 seems like a good score.
“In this day and age, where we’ve seen scores of 350 in one-day cricket, its sobering to see 250 being a difficult score to get. The key is to try and get the team to score around 250 or 260.”
Team? Quite. As much as Amla talks of the responsibility of the frontline batsmen to score most of the runs the reality, in the modern game, is that sides need everyone who takes guard to know what they’re doing.
That squares with what has happened in SA’s triseries matches. In the two they lost, nobody below their top five made it into double figures. In the game their bowlers won, SA wouldn’t have come close had Farhaan Behardien – who batted at No. 6 – not made 62. And if Behardien hadn’t stood firm Aaron Phangiso and Kagiso Rabada would probably not have been able to do their bit in stands of 37 and 39 for the seventh and eighth wickets.
“You have to look at it as a team,” Amla said. “In many games, even chasing scores like 280, you end up needing your No. 7, 8 and 9 to contribute. It’s not a matter of batsmen or bowlers; it’s a collective effort to turn it around in the field as well as with the bat.”
Turn it around? That would be good.