Proteas sink to new depths after another crushing loss

South Africa’s 2019 Cricket World Cup campaign has plumbed to a new depth after a chastening 49 run defeat to Pakistan that leaves them with just one victory from seven matches.

FILE: The Proteas' Faf du Plessis. Picture: @CricketWorldCup/Twitter

LONDON - Toothless with the ball. Uninspiring in the field. Inept with the bat. Rudderless, aimless and hopeless. South Africa’s 2019 Cricket World Cup campaign has plumbed to a new depth after a chastening 49 run defeat to Pakistan that leaves them with just one victory from seven matches.

At Lord’s, the self-proclaimed Home of Cricket, the Proteas appeared as awkward guests who must now know that they have overstayed their welcome. The one redeeming factor from this train wreck of a tournament is that it will soon be over.

Faf du Plessis stood at 10:15 am local time for the toss of the coin with his side not yet mathematically out of the running for a semi-final spot. If they won all three of their remaining fixtures and if England lost all three of theirs and if Bangladesh lost a few of theirs and if Mars and Venus were aligned in the cosmos then maybe, just maybe, this sojourn in the UK would extend beyond 6 July.

But that always looked like too many ifs for a side that is a poor imitation of those that have come before them.

None of these South Africans are bad people. None of them deserve the level of vitriol that they will no doubt receive for losing cricket matches. Before you ready the effigies and sharpen the pitchforks consider directing your anger towards corrupt politicians or greedy capitalists who retain the status quo in a country gripped by economic and social ruin.

But a post mortem of this latest defeat is required so let’s get down to it.

Kagiso Rabada was poor today. Just as he has been throughout the World Cup. Before a back injury ruled him out of the IPL, where he took 25 wickets from 12 games at 14 apiece, he looked like the best fast bowler on the planet. Since his return, he has resembled an uncorked champagne bottle having failed to deliver on the fizz. His 0/65 will thankfully be forgotten.

Against Bangladesh, at the Oval, he was too short. Today he was too full, allowing Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman the freedom to press forward and drive down the ground or through the covers. Both openers registered 44 as they took the score to 81 for no loss inside 15 overs.

Both were removed by Imran Tahir who still thrums at frenetic energy at 40 years old. His second scalp, that of Imam-ul-Haq, was an outstanding caught and bowled, diving to his right and clutching on with one hand. His return of 2/41 from his allotted overs means the most senior statesman in the camp is the only one who leaves London with any credibility.

Apart from Tahir, no South African bowler looked capable of reducing the Pakistanis to singles and dot balls. A lack of a clear strategy means that a multitude of lines and lengths were hit as Haris Sohail, a capable bludgeoner but hardly a world beater was given the freedom to flay 89 runs from just 59 balls as he hauled his team beyond 300.

Lungisani Ngidi, just as culpable as Rabada for wasting the new ball, was gifted three soft wickets at the end to leave him with 3/64 from 9 overs that flattered his performance.

South Africa’s batters would need to match their highest score of the competition so far - achieved against Bangladesh in a 21 run defeat - to reach the 309 set by Pakistan. They had four on the board when Hashim Amla was beaten for pace and thumped on the pads in front of his stumps, LBW for just two courtesy of a Mohammad Amir swinger.

Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis showed fight but presented a disjointed union. On several occasions, they exchanged heated words as the required run rate climbed and boundaries became little more than an occasional irritation to the scorer.

Both batsmen went out playing big shots as they attempted to climb through the gears; de Kock for 47, du Plessis for 63. Separating their dismissals was that of Aiden Markram who still has not worked out how to bat against spin and tried to cut from the back foot at a full ball from Shadab Khan.

Rassie van der Dussen chipped in with 36 to supplement scores of 40, 50, 41, 22 and 67 not-out since landing at Heathrow International in May. He is currently his nation’s leading light with the bat but all hope ended with him when Shadab Khan forced a top edge that was safely held at point.

David Miller has built a reputation on hammering maximums but might need a compass to locate the middle of his bat after this World Cup. In 37 balls he swung his shoulders enthusiastically but barely came close to connecting sweetly with one. He huffed and puffed and hit three fours before he was eventually undone by a Shaheen Shah Afridi slower ball that knocked over his stumps and mercifully put an end to his agonising stay at the crease.

The tail wagged as best it could. Wahab Riaz saw to that with a masterclass in death bowling. His searing, reverse-swinging, toe-breaking yorkers knocked over Chris Morris (28), Rabada (16) and Ngidi (3) as he finished with 3/46 from 10 overs.

As the triumvirate of demoralised Proteas bowlers trudged off with their bats tucked under their arms, they surely must have pondered why they have failed to bowl in a similar fashion over the last few weeks.

As the result became increasingly obvious the frothing crowd worked itself into a frenzy. London’s multiculturalism makes it a beacon in a continent that continues to teeter towards the darkness of parochial populism. Today, the white crescent moon on its field of green turned London into Lahore as a proud cricketing nation kept its slim hopes of a place in the final four alive.

Andile Phehlukwayo ended 45 not-out from 31 balls but it was not enough to prevent South Africa’s elimination. No right minded fan untainted by jingoism would have truly expected the Proteas to challenge for the trophy. There were weaknesses through the side and a dearth of obviously world-class talent.

But even the most cynically minded could not have envisioned a nightmare such as this. This is unquestionably the worst World Cup performance by a South African team. With two games still to go, there may be deeper depths below.