The majority of ‘committed’ South African cricket supporters (as opposed to the part-timers) are a delightful fusion of moaning critics and hoopla celebrators, occasionally at the same time. It appeared that the T20 series in Grenada was just such an occasion.
Like almost everyone else, I watched the series on TV which, from a reporting perspective, can feel frustratingly one-dimensional because you miss the informal, ‘off-the-record’ nuggets of information which provide such valuable perspective on individual and team performances.
Despite the distance the press are more ‘informed’ than fans because the Proteas’ media manager, the prolifically hard-working Sipokazi Sokanyile, sends us ‘sound files’ from the players between games and separate from the official pre and post match press conferences.
Naturally no ‘hard’ questions are asked between two members of the same travelling squad but, occasionally, the answers have been firmer than the questions – Kagiso Rabada and Aiden Markram replied more robustly to Sipo’s gentle promptings than they might have, in relation to their own performances.
Anyway, the most common gripe amongst supporters was that the Proteas squandered good starts by messing up the ‘death overs’ with the bat. The numbers were startling. Instead of scoring at 10-12 an over with five or six wickets in hand, they were stumbling along at five an over losing wickets along the way.
Remarkably, in five matches during the series, the totals varied by just eight runs. So much as Temba Bavuma kept insisting that 180 was a ‘par score’, perhaps he was wrong.
Are we so swayed and convinced by the pioneer marketers of the 20-over game that we genuinely feel disappointed or let down by a lack of boundaries in a T20 game? Most of the original marketers knew little about cricket and came from ‘big show’ events. They asked what the ‘whizz-bang’ elements were in their new sport and were told, inevitably, that it was fours and sixes. Not dot balls and wickets.
So we grew up with the same expectations and the likes of Albie Morkel inherited the crown worn by Lance Klusener which was passed on to AB de Villiers. Plenty more players have been hitting sixes in the meantime, but not on a regular basis. And when none were doing so in Grenada, we were left feeling disappointed.
And yet the series was won – against the most powerful six-hitting team in the world. The West Indies are the popular second choice to win the T20 World Cup should the supreme favourites, India, falter in their own conditions in November.
South Africa’s younger supporters may, understandably, see the misfiring and impatient West Indian batsmen as the architects of their own demise rather than pay credit to South Africa’s bowlers and fielders.
Quinton de Kock scored 255 runs in five innings at a strike rate of 141. It was a brilliant series for him. Markram was the only other batsman to pass 100 runs with 113 from three innings. There is no way, official or unofficial, to compare batting and bowling averages, but here goes anyway – with input from my many friends in the world of statistics.
Tabraiz Shamsi’s series statistics over five matches were: 20-0-80-7 with an RPO of 4:00… that’s FOUR runs per over in five matches against the most powerful batting T20 batting unit in the game. I asked two of my favourite statisticians to equate those numbers to a batsman. Here is their aggregate guass: Inns 5. Runs 550. 3x100. 2x50. SR 190.
We don’t and probably never will appreciate the role bowlers play in winning T20 games, even when they produce numbers like Shamsi’s. But unless he delivers a single, eye-watering analysis of, say, 4-2-10-5, he won’t persuade the headline writers that a batsman’s 70 from 40 balls wasn’t the match-winning contribution. Even if his 4-0-14-1 had, in fact, done more to win the game.
25 years ago South Africa didn’t just make a habit of winning limited overs games with below-par totals, it was their modus operandi. It was an entirely different era, of course, but Kepler Wessels had such faith in his bowlers and the tenacity of his fielders that his confidence in a total of 220 in 50 overs was absolute. More often than not it was vindicated.
A quarter of a century later the game has changed in every way, format, intensity approach and technique. But it struck me, in many ways, that the Proteas struggles to hit boundaries in the closing overs in Grenada were reminiscent of those early years (Adrian Kuiper was the sole exception) but the bowling and fielding parsimony was even more familiar.
Fanie de Villiers and Craig Matthews were metronomic in the opening overs (admittedly before Power Plays) and the fielding was not just about Jonty Rhodes – Derek Crookes, too, was an exceptional run-saver.
Always press forwards, never turn back in the pursuit of success. But looking back, for a moment, can be beneficial.