World Cup Warm-up Week of Hopes & Dreams

Warm-up week before the start of an ICC event is always lots of fun. Supporters generally read far more into the results than the players for whom there are objectives other than winning. Most teams are trying to win, naturally, although it was hard to believe the West Indies were doing much more than having a stretch when they conceded 189-5 against Afghanistan and then strolled to 133-5 in reply. Energy conservation is a big thing in the Caribbean.

Australia’s rivalry with New Zealand is old and strong enough for their 3-wicket victory against the Black Caps to mean something but the Aussies were very quick to laugh off the 8-wicket hiding they were given by India which included the unedifying sight of Rohit Sharma tucking his bat under his arm and strolling off with 60 to his name to give someone else a hit.

In case you missed it, Australia’s workmanlike 152-5 was chased down by India in 17.5 overs.

Just as unedifying were the comments on television aimed at the batting pace of Temba Bavuma during South Africa’s two warm-up matches against Afghanistan and Pakistan, both of which they won. Brian Lara was relentless in his criticism of Bavuma’s lack of early boundaries, apparently unaware that the two practise matches were Bavuma’s first outings for over two months following his broken thumb during the Sri Lanka tour.

I can’t be certain but I wouldn’t mind wagering a decent meal on the fact that Bavuma would have been instructed by the coaching team to prioritise a lengthy stay at the crease over making a quick start. It’s not ideal using World Cup practise matches as fitness tests but that’s the way it had to be – and Bavuma passed both with innings of 31 (39 balls) against Afghanistan and 46 from 42 against Pakistan.

There’s an awful lot like about Rassie van der Dussen, mostly that he appears to thrive on proving people wrong and shoving criticism down peoples’ throats. Down my throat. Almost a year ago Rassie played a curious innings in a T20 International against England at Boland Park. The Proteas were short of runs batting first on an awkward pitch and he finished 25 not out from 29 balls without hitting a boundary. And without appearing to make much effort to hit one.

I wasn’t alone in suggesting that it was a peculiar display but, you know what? He was very nearly proved right as England chased down South Africa’s total of 146-6 with just a single ball to spare. As is the case in the vast majority of international matches, those in the middle read the game situation more precisely than anybody off the field. But not always. That’s why the number of coaches and analysts is increasing all the time.

Rassie, I’m told, is also a regular if not an avid reader of media so he may well have seen, or heard about, the World Cup previews in which I suggested the Proteas lacked the element of ‘dynamism’ amongst the batsmen which would enable them to either bat the opposition out of a game or chase down daunting totals. I suggested that the Proteas were a very good ‘par’ team, reliable at both posting and defending par totals.

In the second warm-up match against Pakistan, the Proteas were replying to Pakistan’s daunting 186-6 and did well to even reach a situation in which they required 47 runs from the final three overs. Rassie won the game with a boundary off the final ball to finish unbeaten on 101 from 51 balls with 10 fours and four sixes. By any standards, World Cup warm-up or not, it was brutal and clinical in equal measure. I couldn’t help feeling a sweet middle finger pointing in my direction.

At the start of van der Dussen’s international career I was also not alone in pointing out that his customary ‘slow start, catch up later’ approach was a little too ‘high risk’ than was ideal. It was, he said, the way he played. Yet that isn’t the way he plays now. He’s urgent, busy and positive from ball one these days. As I said, there’s a great deal to love about Rassie van der Dussen. Unafraid to learn and improve, long live his desire and ability to prove people wrong.

The first week of the World Cup has been a complete joy, in case you missed it. Papua New Guinea provided rays of bright, happy sunshine, as did Oman, but the sheer, ecstatic joy of the Namibian and Scotland teams at qualifying for the Super-12 round of the tournament will live long in the memory. There will be many more memories made in the next three weeks. I wish Temba and Rassie all the best in being amongst the happier of them.

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