TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
YOU can’t complain about a team who have reeled off 11 victories. But you can ask questions about what those results have revealed.
If that team is South Africa, who went into the first match of their one-day series against New Zealand in Hamilton on Sunday on the back of those 11 consecutive wins, you must ask those questions.
Too often South Africans have seen a tsunami of success on the horizon only for it to ebb to a few centimetres of foam by the time it reaches the shoreline, where a major trophy invariably glints in the sun – bone dry and untouched.
The tsunami is on the horizon again, thanks to South Africa’s 5-0 drubbings of Australia and Sri Lanka and a one-off win over Ireland. On the shoreline stands the Champions Trophy, waiting to be won in England in June.
Having coached South Africa at the 2003 World Cup, Eric Simons knows how that feels.
“You’ve got to recognise that they’ve done extremely well and you can’t be critical,” Simons said.
“You can only beat whose put in front of you and they did very well against Sri Lanka …”
A “but” had to be coming soon, surely.
“ … But we’re looking for problems, and I’m not convinced by the bowling.
“As you coach you look at how something is delivered rather than the outcome, and I think there’s work to be done on the bowling.
“You’d like to see a strategy in place, and sometimes I think we got away with things rather than that it looked like the strategy was clear.
“Essentially what you’re doing is managing the odds. And that means you need to get three things in place – get your tactics right, get your execution right and get your field placing right.
“I can’t always see that that is happening. The outcomes have been good, but under the pressure of a tournament those things must be in place.
“Sometimes when I’ve watched situations, particularly in the 50-over game, where plan A is all you need to deliver, and then something happens and you think, ‘Why would he do that?’.
“You’re commenting from a distance because we don’t know what the thinking is, but it looks to me like the bowler’s got it wrong rather than he’s been able to consistently deliver plan A.
“There’s no need to change. You run up and hit the top of off stump and suddenly you bowl full on leg stump. There’s no way that’s a plan.
“I look at the ball and I look at the field, and I’m thinking, ‘Either he’s got it horribly wrong or he’s tried to bluff the batsman’.
“As a coach, you should be able to see what the plan is.”
Simons saw fewer issues with South Africa’s batting: “There’s quality all the way through. If they can maintain allrounders at seven, maybe even eight, they have a really solid line-up.”
But if Simons’ view of South Africa’s bowling is accurate then work needs to be done before the Champions Trophy.
Some of it would fall to the bowling coach, Charl Langeveldt, and head coach Russell Domingo.
The rest would be on the shoulders of AB de Villiers, South Africa’s ODI captain and the man with whom the buck stops as soon as the players step onto the business side of the boundary.
It is De Villiers’ job to implement whatever plans have been devised, and how well – or not – he does so during the five-match New Zealand series and the three ODIs South Africa will play in England before the Champions Trophy will serve as a reality check for the tournament.
De Villiers’ relationship with the game in this country is at a delicate stage.
But all will be forgotten if he comes home with the trophy.