South Africa, this is your team. Always

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in London

EDGBASTON is the perfect place to sulk about a cricket match gone wrong. Particularly a wet, cold Edgbaston.

It’s a starkly symmetrical, utilitarian ground, a place where the nuts and bolts of the game seem to matter more than what adorns cricket or conjures its drama.

If The Oval is a pull ripped from the heart and Lord’s a cover drive fetched from the soul, Edgbaston is a forward defensive. A very good forward defensive — bat and pad snugly together, head hovering over ball meeting bat — but unlovable nonetheless.

That’s Edgbaston at the best of times. At the worst of times, when the rain tumbles down along with the temperature and the result has gone the wrong way — as it did on Wednesday when Pakistan had the wood over South Africa in all departments — it is a wasteland.

Edgbaston is, as every cricketminded South African knows and every bastard Australian can’t help reminding them, needlessly, where Lance Klusener and Allan Donald got things so badly wrong in the 1999 World Cup semi-final — a yoke that seems determined to hang around South Africa’s necks as determinedly as the “Curse of the Bambino” stuck to the Boston Red Sox.

The latter took 86 years to be resolved. South Africa’s problems with winning one–day internationals when it matters are only 18 years old.

But that’s too bloody long by half for their cricketminded compatriots.

And here South Africa are, at the Champions Trophy in England, having yet another go.

And there they were at wet, cold Edgbaston on Wednesday wondering what the hell had gone wrong. Again.

“Pakistan played better than us,” Russell Domingo said.

There was no arguing with that.

Nor with this: “We know that there’s a lot of talk about us having not won a competition for a long time.”

But there is arguing with this: “There’s nothing we can do about it. It’s outside of what we can control. We’ve just got to focus on playing good cricket and preparing well.”

Even if he did temper it with: “We have to take that on the chin and acknowledge that our performance was not as good as what we can put together.

“So we have some thinking to do and planning to do going into Sunday’s game.”

On Sunday, that is, against India at The Oval.

If South Africa win they will plot a path forward to the semi-finals.

If they lose they will watch the final from the comfort of their five-star hotel rooms as they contemplate their preparations for the T20 and test series against England that will follow the tournament.

The contrast is as stark as it has always been.

But there is hope that this South African team, because they have not swept all before them in England, are made of sterner stuff than those who have gone before.

And that hope comes from someone who knows that stark difference only too well.

“In the five games that we’ve played [including an ODI series against England, who won it 2-1] we haven’t been at our best,” Shaun Pollock said. “We haven’t clicked as a unit for the full 50 overs, batting or bowling.

“I would have thought the batting would be our strength — we’ve got three in the top 10 [rankings: AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla} — but they haven’t really fired.”

That glass wasn’t necessarily half-empty.

“Golfers and tennis players go to certain tournaments and they play unbelievably well,” Pollock said.

“Others don’t look great and squeak through five-setters or just make the cut.

“And then they come good.”

Whether or not that happens in this tournament, Pollock was confident the problem wasn’t the topic that has set fire to the headlines and comments sections — De Villiers’ captaincy.

“When the team’s not winning and you’re not performing, all of a sudden everyone wants to point fingers,” Pollock said from personal experience.

“If he goes out and gets a hundred off 60 balls [on Sunday], everyone’s talking about ‘AB baby’.

“When the team lose it’s your team. When the team lose it’s our team. That’s how it works.”

It shouldn’t work that way. It’s every South African’s damn team. Always. Everywhere.

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