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South Africa have only themselves to blame

By Barry Richards
March 04, 2003 19:19 IST
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The morning after has been subdued in South Africa. Many newspapers went to print early, and there is a hangover after last night's disastrous turn of events. There is a great deal of sympathy for Shaun Pollock and his men, because rain once again deprived them of a chance to win the game. Things would have been very different if they were beaten outright, but the sudden downpour has given most people the impression that they were done out of a sure win. In that sense, South Africa's poor performance in the tournament so far has been forgotten in the wave of public sympathy for what happened at the end of the match.

Things would have been different if the South Africans had not lost wickets at such crucial points in their chase. Graeme Smith was caught while trying to clear the longest boundary, Gary Kirsten was bowled round his legs, and three batsmen succumbed to the sweep. Only Boeta Dippenaar was unlucky to receive a fairly poor lbw decision. It's sad to think that if Shaun Pollock were around -- he was out of his crease by centimeters -- South Africa would have made it. The rain was really sudden when it came, and while some questions will be asked about why Mark Boucher blocked the last ball, I think it would be unfair to judge him too harshly.

When Nicky Boje came out with the exact equation, he was sent back by umpire Bucknor. Boucher and Klusener missed a trick at that point. One of them should have told the umpire that their gloves were wet and that they needed new ones. Boje would then have been allowed to come on, and Boucher would have known what was expected. Once again, lack of communication, panic and tension got the better of the South African camp. It's tough when you think that this team has been involved in the only two ties in World Cups, and both matches have cost them dearly.

However, there is no denying that South Africa have only themselves to blame for the way things have turned out. Questions will slowly emerge. Do we have the right captain? Do we have the right coach? Is our selection policy and quota system damaging cricket? I think the coach will be given another chance, and even Pollock will survive. The quota system for representation of coloured and black players is something the government is keeping a watch on, so that won't change either.

The South Africans were fooled into believing that the team was going great guns on the evidence provided by wins against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. They thought they had the bowling to do well in home conditions, but home conditions changed for the World Cup under the express orders to groundsmen that pitches must be full of runs. South Africa thought they had bench strength, but the fact of the matter is that even players like Monde Zondeki and Charl Langeveldt are not up to scratch at this level. The cupboard is bare, and there are no replacements when guys like Allan Donald and Gary Kirsten call it a day.

The wickets this World Cup has been played on are alien to the South Africans. Left-arm seamers like Chaminda Vaas, Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan have thrived in these conditions, but our bowlers are not used to bowling on these wickets. In trying to be good hosts, the World Cup organizers provided foreign pitches to the home team.

The South Africans looked completely out of sorts right through this World Cup, with only their batsmen achieving some sort of form. Jacques Kallis looked pedestrian, Jonty Rhodes's absence left the fielding look less attacking and there are sinister reports that the team is not as united as it should be. The back-up bowling just did not back up the efforts of Pollock and Makhaya Ntini, and if one area has to be targeted, it's the third and fourth bowlers.

The support for this World Cup will see a slight drop. However, South Africa are a great sporting nation and they will rally through this dark hour. Perhaps a win by Ernie Els at the Dubai Open or a victory for our rugby team will be the antidote for the current despondency. Till then the cricket team will have to face the recriminations and soul-searching that invariably follows such an ignominious exit.

(Gameplan)

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Barry Richards