Australia v South Africa, Super Eights, World Twenty20, Colombo September 30, 2012

Muddled South Africa staring at exit

Poor strategy, puzzling selection and persistent unsettledness have been South Africa's weak points this tournament

Even if their match against India on Tuesday gives them an opportunity to qualify for the semi-finals, South Africa should still conduct a full forensic audit of their performance in the Super Eights so far.

They will find, happily, that pressure has not undone them. The usual big tournament jitters have stayed away but still South Africa have endured two defeats. This time it's poor strategy, puzzling selection and persistent unsettledness which have been their weak points. As a result, they were not able to handle Umar Gul's blitz on Friday and were equally incapable of taming a clinical Shane Watson-led Australia on Sunday.

The gulf between those two methods of being outplayed was so vast that AB de Villiers could not isolate a single area of concern after the loss to Australia. "It's hard to put my finger on it," he said. "We started badly and finished badly as well. So, there is a bit of a bad taste in my mouth at the moment."

In a way, that assessment sums it up perfectly. South Africa's top and bottom are not working as they should and everything in between is suffering because of it.

A glaringly obvious place to start the dissection is the top of the order. Richard Levi's continued failings in the opening berth have to result in a change in that position. The days of riding on the reputation of his century in Hamilton should be over, especially since the only score of substance he has posted since then was a half-century against a half-hearted Zimbabwe.

Levi's technical problem is obvious to even the most junior level bowler. Not only does he struggle to play the ball on the off side but he cannot seem to untie his legs from the spinners' webs. His mandate of aggression from the get-go is never fulfilled because in attempting to show intent, he only shows his stumps.

Faf du Plessis is the only available replacement in the squad for Levi. De Villiers has hinted that Du Plessis may play against India because South Africa "will have to try a few other combinations," but he has not had a great run of form leading in. In hindsight, South Africa may regret leaving out Graeme Smith, their highest run-scorer in T20 cricket, or a player like David Miller, who enjoyed a fruitful stint at Yorkshire during the Friends Life t20.

Even if the Levi issue is solved, South Africa's top three has other problems. Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis are fine players in their own right but cannot seem to perform together in a T20 line-up. Kallis was due to open the batting - as announced by convenor of selectors Andrew Hudson when the squad was named - which he does at Kolkata Knight Riders.

There, he bats in-between aggressors Gautam Gambhir and Manvinder Bisla, not one batsman who is out of form and one who is trying to cultivate it. Amla has not been able to take his ODI form and replicate it at T20 level, yet. It may be that he just requires more time, like he did in ODIs, but time is not in abundance at a tournament like the WorldT20.

Below that, South Africa's line-up seems to play the lottery. Sometimes JP Duminy goes in at No. 4, sometimes de Villiers, sometimes Albie Morkel (when he plays), sometimes a new-ish player like Farhaan Berhardien. In trying to be unpredictable, South Africa have actually unravelled. The evidence shows that it is not a tactic that works for them.

Conventional thinking is that the best batsman of the side should face the most balls and that would be de Villiers, based on his ability to improvise and make an impact. He denied that it was him. "My T20 record is probably the worst of the top six," he said. He is wrong. De Villiers is South Africa's third highest T20 run-scorer and has a higher strike rate than both Kallis and Amla.

It may not be modern to resort to a fixed line-up, but it would be sensible. Importantly, it would also give everyone an idea of their role, something that neither batsmen nor bowlers appear to have at the moment.

Dale Steyn has opened the bowling as only he can: with pace, swing and venom. Against Australia, Morne Morkel started well too. Robin Peterson who was the go-to man for almost every match of the 2011 World Cup has not been used first-up in the Super Eights. The success of slower bowlers and his ability against right-handers could see him used in that capacity.

The absence of a distinct fifth bowler has also become a problem. Against Pakistan, Kallis and Albie Morkel did the job but were expensive. Wayne Parnell came in cold, having sat on benches for a while, and was disappointingly wayward against Australia. Meanwhile, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, South Africa's second most economical bowler after Johan Botha, has not played at all. Tsotsobe has slipped in the queue and his clever use of variations seems to have been forgotten.

De Villiers is a new captain and is, by his own admission, still learning. What he lacks is something to study from. South Africa cannot be blamed for wanting to try new things because they were often criticised for lacking innovation but in doing so, they seem to have forgotten their foundations. They need to rediscover those. Then if a player like Gul or Watson takes the game away, there really be nothing more South Africa could have done.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Peter on October 2, 2012, 8:43 GMT

    I'm not really surprised that the team is performing so badly. Our test team only got settle after the loss to Sri Lanka but we still dont know whats our best ODI & T20 team. The reason for that is because we dont play enough cricket. Gary Kirsten and co will need to connect all the dots soon. Parnell and Tsotsobe are new ball bowlers and if they pick either of these two players they should always open the bowling. Parnell was a fantastic in the T20 WC in England 2009, he just needs to get his confidence back. Levi should never play international cricket again, period. I just never thought that Kallis would be so poor, he should also be dropped. I've said from the start Albie should open... with the squad we have, I'll pick:- 1- A.Morkel, 2-F.du Plessis, 3-H.Amla, 4-AB de Villiers, 5-JP Duminy, 6-F.Behardien, 7-J.Botha, 8-R.Peterson, 9-W.Parnell, 10-D.Steyn, 11-M.Morkel.

  • Vipranarayanan on October 1, 2012, 16:27 GMT

    To be termed a choker... one needs to get into a winning position and lose. South Africa have smartly avoided that tag by never getting into a winning position in the first place. Bravo South Africa!!!

  • Lesley on October 1, 2012, 14:35 GMT

    am lost for words this is really hurting me, how long will we be the laughing stock of international cricket? although this time we didn't fail because of pressure, against pakistan it was down to some stupid captaincy and against the aussies well we were never in the game. to be honest we have done really well with the players that are selected for over 6 months now until the super 8s of this tournament, however Levi has had his time he needs to go back to school cricket let alone franchise cricket his proven himself useless, cant comment about miller because his had his chances and didn't do well Philander doesn't play T20 his had his chances in ODIs and also failed. we just need to drop Levi with Faf, and pray that the gods are on our side this time

  • Dummy4 on October 1, 2012, 11:31 GMT

    Absolute disaster from the management team!!!

  • Varun on October 1, 2012, 10:31 GMT

    This would be an interesting XI: Smith, Amla, Kallis, de Villiers (wk), Duminy, du Plessis, A Morkel, R Peterson, Botha (C), Steyn, M Morkel. Smith is an underrated T20 batsmen; he can really hit it out of the park. Amla and Kallis aren't quite as aggressive as you'd want them to be, but that's ok, provided they score at a strike rate of 120-130. The bowling attack is fantastic. I'd even consider bringing in Tsotsobe in seaming conditions. Parnell should never be picked again. He is useless: his bowling is expensive and he really can't bat as well as his reputation says.

  • Ajey on October 1, 2012, 10:15 GMT

    Against Australia, SA were outplayed. Agreed. But they clearly choked against Pakistan. From 76/7, they let Pak come back in the game. U. Gul can not bat so no question of him outbatting anyone. The fear of winning an ICC event is too strong in the SA team.

  • Sreekanth on October 1, 2012, 9:19 GMT

    I have said this before and I'll say this again - You cannot have both Kallis and Amla in the same T20 team coming in at 2 & 3. There is place for only one of them. Both of them play at an SR of 100, and that means unless the other opener (levi in this case) or devilliers in the end fires big time you are not going to get a competitive total. 133 and 146 in subcontinent conditions are below par scores. SA have the bowling to defend a 160-170, but they need to drop either Amla/kallis from the top order of their batting and get someone who can kick on at a better pace.

  • greig on October 1, 2012, 9:02 GMT

    I think we need to use T20 to develop young talent as a nusery to feed into ODI and Test cricket. No one really cares about who wins a 20 over slog but we should still use it as a training ground and international exposure. With that said players like Levi need to go, he is a one hit wonder - youngsters like De Kock should be opening instead before he gets pinched by england. Parnell, Ontong and Pietersen always have been and always will be very average cricketers at best. We need to look to our youth.

  • Joash on October 1, 2012, 8:04 GMT

    Wish Ab was not the captain so he could focus only on batting and Smith a left hand opener is most important

  • Andrew on October 1, 2012, 7:54 GMT

    The game against Australia was worse than the Pakistani game ... Our batting was stuck in second gear where it goyt to after over 5 ... we may have shifted to 3rd gear but that was it ... Levi has done his time ... Amla and Kallis we bouth in the hut before the coffee was boiled ... Duminy like Amla and Kallis is a container ... If they are getting out how can the rest of the team play with freedom ... Steyn and Morkel bowl well up front ... Australia were 15/1 ... I would have turned to a spinner then ... but they bowled two overs more of pace which then went for 8 and 15 runs ... in a couple of overs the game had shifted from 2nd gear to fourth and fifth gear ... and it didn't matter who to bring on then ... the spinners were 2 overs late ... T20 is about momentum ... Get it keep it ... lose momentum lose the game ...

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