The 2015 edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup has served up some terrific match-ups so far, with the cricket fan having been treated to both high scoring batting displays as well as some brilliant bowling performances. Co-hosts New Zealand and Australia have seemingly lived up to the hype created by the media and the bookies alike, while some ‘underdogs’ such as debutants Afghanistan have managed to win the hearts of the cricketing world with some spirited displays against the likes of Sri Lanka and Scotland. From a South African perspective, the Proteas seemed to have restored the faith of their ever-so-sceptical fans, whose enthusiasm and pleasant overuse of the #ProteaFire following their victory against fellow Africans Zimbabwe, came to a stunning halt after something of a drubbing at the hands of defending champions India. Russell Domingo’s troops responded to that setback by handing cricketing lessons to both the West Indies and Ireland, games in which the likes of Hashim Amla, AB De Villiers, Faf Du Plessis, JP Duminy and David Miller all showed their class.
These performances made us wonder how the calamity against India happened, how the Proteas’ batting line up could collectively only manage a lowly 177. Fingers were pointed in all directions, and whispers of the infamous “C word” seemed to seep through so-called patriotic mouths. One of the criticisms was towards the squad selection, but while you let the fact that Imran Tahir scored more runs than both Quinton De Kock and JP Duminy in that match sink in, ask yourself, “Who in the 15 man squad could have saved that game for the Proteas?” The absentees for that fixture were Kyle Abbott, Aaron Phangiso, Rilee Rossouw, and Farhaan Behardien. If we are all in agreement that we have, through the selection process, sent 15 of our best cricketers to the world cup, then we should be able to say, with confidence, “if only Farhaan had played it might have gone differently”. But can we really?
Fast forward to the fixture against what was supposedly a weaker Pakistan side, and you might draw the conclusion that the South African side is ‘match winner deficient’. The batting line up comprises a 3 man core of match winning batsmen, and the rest are a group of lads who may or may not show up to the party on the day. In AB De Villiers, Hashim Amla and Faf Du Plessis, we have a trio that represents the best chance we have of winning the cup, but to quote one of my more honest ex-girlfriends: “that is simply not enough”. The only way we can avoid being labelled Chokers is if the supporting cast are able to step up when needed. The lot of them have so far proven that this task is rather difficult to achieve, bar David Miller here and there. What the loss to Pakistan showed was that while AB (77 runs off 58) is well capable of carrying this Proteas side when called upon, there is a fragility within the side where there aren’t enough men around him to see the side over the line should he fall short.
Light needs to be shed on the likes of Farhaan Behardien and Quinton De Kock, a duo who have failed to inspire or indeed to merit their spot on the team. Farhaan has always looked just shy of the quality and consistency that warrants a spot in a world cup squad. The coaches seem to silently share this sentiment, looking at how little he has featured in this world cup, particularly with the willow. He’s inconsistency is enough to question whether someone like Albie Morkel, or even Dean Elgar, players who were both instrumental in the Ultimate Titans’ recent Momentum One Day Cup final triumph, would have been a better fit. Behardien doesn’t boast the best numbers, with 328 runs and just 12 wickets in 24 Proteas appearances, but having been selected, we must assume he has a role to play. But he’s only featured once with the willow, scoring 10 (not out) against the West Indies. So it’s safe to say we have not seen enough of Farhaan to confirm that he was a poor selection, but one can’t help but feel as though it was a blessing in disguise that matches were won before he could play a part, as opposed to being called upon to lead a run chase.
The same cannot be said for Quinton De Kock. Contrary to what some fans may feel, we don’t care much for the whole ‘dreamy eyes and a cute smile’ thing when only 27 runs have been scored in 5 matches from an opening batsman. A solid start is pivotal to a successful run chase, or indeed to setting a high target, and thanks to Q, we have not had a single one of those this tournament. It’s frustrating because I believe we all wanted him to become the Proteas equivalent of Chad Le Clos, but the stage fright has beaten the lad time and time again. The coaches persisted with him for 5 matches, as opposed to dropping him and reshuffling the order, or something to that effect. The reason for this may very well be because there really isn’t much in reserve. My argument suggests if we had options like Dean Elgar or Albie Morkel in the side, De Kock is dropped, the order reshuffled and we write a different article.
In Behardien and Q, we have a player who has proven that we can win and lose without his contribution, and one who has simply just failed to launch. That poses a problem moving forward, but also leads one to think that perhaps it’s not just the players who are the chokers, but the selectors too. I’m no cricket guru or anything, but I think if we are to lose the label and win a trophy, we need to ensure that we send the best 15 players to represent the country, and to react to poor performances by making the necessary changes to ensure that the progression of the squad. The good news though, is that there are still some games to go, and we will be hoping Quinton can finally show up, and that Farhaan can show us why exactly he is there.