South Africa rediscover winning feeling with tune up triumph

It took 28.4 overs for Quinton de Kock (68 off 72 balls), Hashim Amla (41 not-out off 83 balls) and Andile Phehlukwayo (17 not-out off 17 balls) to reach their score of 131/1.

Proteas vs Afghanistan on 15 June 2019. Picture: @OfficialCSA/Twitter.

CARDIFF – There’s no pleasing some people. After a fortnight of anguish and scandal and rain and soul searching, the Proteas won a match at the Cricket World Cup by a gargantuan nine-wicket margin under blue skies and sunshine.

And yet the knives were still brandished on social media and in the press box where punters and pundits expressed dismay at South Africa’s apparent meandering chase of a low total.

It took 28.4 overs for Quinton de Kock (68 off 72 balls), Hashim Amla (41 not out off 83 balls) and Andile Phehlukwayo (17 not out off 17 balls) to reach their score of 131/1. That’s a run-rate of 4.56 an over against easily the worst team in the tournament.

With net run-rate likely to determine whether or not South African qualify for the semi-finals (assuming they win all four of their remaining games, a hypothetical scenario that is far from guaranteed), disparaging remarks and tough questions were posed.

Proteas of the past Paul Adams and Henry Davids took to Twitter to express their frustration. Some fans were particularly disparaging, focussing on Amla in particular. One journalist called him “selfish”. Faf du Plessis was having none of it.

“Obviously in a perfect world, yes, you would want Hash to get 40 off 40 or 50 balls,” the Proteas skipper said. “But I think specifically with him it’s a bigger picture. It’s about getting runs, finishing a game off, getting confidence for himself. He’s a big player for us and we need him for the next four games.”

Du Plessis continued: “I think time in the middle is gold for anybody. Sitting on the side, I was OK with him because I see the value in it in the games that’s coming up next.”

Du Plessis said he felt lighter after today’s victory. He looked it in the post-match presser. Leading up to this clash in the Welsh capital, the first of five ‘quarterfinals’ as he dubbed it, he looked like a man carrying around the burden of a nation’s expectations.

His team were rightly pilloried from pillar to post. Heavy defeats to England and India either side of a shock loss to Bangladesh left the Proteas stranded near the foot of the table. A washed out game against the West Indies last week meant that their destiny was no longer in their own hands.

South Africa needed a win. Like a prize-fighting boxer with a mighty knockout punch but a glass chin they found themselves contemplating emotions they never expected to contemplate. This was a side billed as possessing one of the best bowling attacks in the world. Things had not gone according to plan. They were blinking up at bright lights from the canvas after being put on their backs in humiliating fashion.

When a boxer navigates a similar position, his promoter will organise a morale boosting fight against a mediocre slab of meat content with a pay-check. A no-hoper whose job it is to step into the ring and get pummelled so that the main attraction can know what it feels to be a winner again.

Afghanistan proved to be the perfect tune-up opportunity. Their side limped into the tournament in a shambled state after relieving Asghar Afghan of his captaincy duties. Back home, Mohammad Shahzad is busy denying reports from within the camp that he is unfit for selection. They’d been trounced by Australia, Sri Lanka and New Zealand after being bowled out for scores of 207, 152 and 172.

South Africa may have found themselves at a newfound low but they were never going to lose this match. Despite what the most biting cynics may have argued, they are still a team littered with star quality and were always going to prove too much for the relative minnows of this ten team tournament.

But the knives were still brandished. The torches were lit. Echoes in the ether reverberated with the howls of disapproval at the manner of victory. Sidelined were the returns of Imran Tahir (4/29), Chris Morris (3/13) and Andile Phehlukwayo (2/18). Few will consider de Kock’s 23rd ODI fifty which puts him level with Daryll Cullinan. Or of the excellent fielding with Rassie van der Dussen catching pigeons on the boundary.

Only the journalists reporting on the game made significant mention of a spell of accurate and probing bowling that bagged five wickets in 29 balls while only conceding eight runs.

The Proteas do not need cheerleaders. When they perform poorly, and they have, they deserve condemnation. The fans are the most important stakeholders and have a right to voice their opinions. But what do we become when even a victory is treated with more derision than delight?

The Proteas have tougher tasks ahead. New Zealand on Wednesday could provide the knockout blow that puts the Proteas World Cup campaign to sleep. But that is for the future. For now, they have rediscovered that winning feeling.