ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

England v South Africa, Group B, World Cup 2011, Chennai

South Africa's marshmallow syndrome

Marshmallows can't withstand. Trap them in a clenched fist and they're soon squashed. Heat them up and they become gooey and pliable, a little like the South African middle-order

Firdose Moonda at Chennai

March 6, 2011

Comments: 59 | Text size: A | A

Just when South Africa looked to be edging past England Tim Bresnan removed Morne van Wyk, England v South Africa, Group B, World Cup, Chennai, March 6, 2011
Squashed, singed and beaten: South Africa's middle order couldn't take the heat © Getty Images

A marshmallow has many redeeming qualities. It's sweet and light and fluffy and tastes as good dipped in chocolate as it does chargrilled over a flame. That it can so easily get burnt is one of its shortcomings.

Marshmallows can't withstand. Trap them in a clenched fist and they're soon squashed. Heat them up and they become gooey and pliable. In other words, place them in a situation of pressure and they're likely to become unrecognisable, a little like the South African middle order.

"It's the first outing they've had for a long time," Graeme Smith said at the post-match press conference. A forgetful outing it was, as seven wickets tumbled for 41 runs, and the flames of spin, swing and attacking bowling them burnt them beyond recognition. Once the top four were gone, they panicked, like Faf du Plessis, who called for a run that simply wasn't there; they were outclassed, like JP Duminy, who has no answers for James Anderson's accuracy, and they couldn't settle like Robin Peterson, who looked like getting out from just about the first ball he faced.

Morne van Wyk, a first-class campaigner of 16 seasons, showed a certain composure and maturity to combine with Dale Steyn and then also played a shot in anger - only to play it onto his own stumps. It left Steyn and Morne Morkel, both proficient with the bat, with a simple enough task to complete, but one that was made difficult because of the carnage they'd seen before them. If batsmen at positions five, six, seven and eight had been squashed, what chance did they have?

This middle order, particularly from No. 6 downwards, has not spent any time at the crease in this World Cup, so it's only natural that they would need a period of adjustment. Maybe that period would mean scoring slowly, trying to make sense of the conditions and work out to play on them. Maybe it meant one or two of them perishing in the cause. On a bowler-friendly Chennai surface, they had no such luxury.

Conditions favoured the bowlers and even though patience would have been rewarded, the pace of the game at the stage when they entered it demanded a quick adjustment and an immediate plan to shut out the pressure. Such a plan can only be executed with confidence, and confidence will only come with time in the middle, time that they have not had. It's too early to panic though, according to Smith. "We need to show a little bit more faith in them rather than to just give them one go."

No, it's not fair to call them melting marshmallows after one collapse. There Smith is correct. Where he isn't, however, is that it hasn't been just one. In the last seven ODIs, there have been three collapses, two while chasing. One of them was today. The other two came against India, South Africa's next opponents in this tournament. Munaf Patel was the man who made it happen both times. He took 4 for 29 in Johannesburg, when South Africa watched seven wickets fall for 29 runs and lost the match by one run. His 2 for 42 was part of a collapse in which South Africa lost 5 for 20 and crashed from 200 for 5 to 220 all out.

It's positions six, seven and eight that are most problematic. This time, they were the domain of Duminy and van Wyk, but Peterson, Johan Botha, Wayne Parnell and Colin Ingram have all been tried, in different combinations, to fill the slot, none with enough success to last. It presents South Africa with a puzzle they haven't had to solve too many times in the past - with the likes of Mark Boucher and Lance Klusener lurking at No. 7 to steady or surge as needed.

These days there is something less solid than the two mentioned above, and it doesn't look like South Africa are anywhere closer to hardening it up. "I thought Faf and Ab hung in really well. If they could have hung in a few more overs, we could have got home. That was a crucial part of the game," Smith said when asked about the middle order, not making any reference to the batsmen who come after du Plessis, who was pushed up to No. 5.

Inexperience is what undid du Plessis, while Duminy has yet to find a sustained period of form that made him a superstar against Australia three seasons ago. An extended run for van Wyk may turn him into the dependable man South Africa need in that position and if Botha comes back into the starting XI, he may provide stability and security in the lower middle order. Until then, it's going to remain a cluster of talented players, the kind that look good if their job is to build on what the top order has created but who can still get singed when the heat is really on.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Comments: 59 
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Posted by Craig on (March 9, 2011, 12:26 GMT)

Boucher has had his chances, and it was precisely because of his lapse in form with the bat that he was dropped. He hasn't won any World Cups for SA before, and he wasn't going to win much for us now, particularly in these conditions. Albie Morkel on the other hand should have made this side purely on the strength of his batting. His inconsistency with the ball means that he will never be a Kallis, but his batting is certainly better than his figures suggest, figures which are a consequence of Mickey Arthur's misguided use of this quality player only as a late hitter. Morkel is far more than a bludgeoner of the ball. He has good technique and could bat far higher up the order than he has been allowed to in the past. I cannot believe that he is a worse option than Smith or du Plessis and how Ingram deserves a place ahead of him is a mystery. How did the SA selectors fail to include one of the most destructive and feared batsmen in world cricket two World Cups in a row?

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 8, 2011, 20:31 GMT)

LOL! Choke, what choke? Marshmellow - what's a marshmellow? LOL! The Saffas - gotta love em!

Posted by Gordon on (March 8, 2011, 10:23 GMT)

You need to make one change and one change only and that is Ingram to replace DuPlessis. Of course moving Smith down the Order is not a bad idea either. Keep in mind the South African bowlers all did a great job against England. To me the only way Botha would get in the side against India would be an injury to Robin or to Imran.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 8, 2011, 0:09 GMT)

How players like du plessis and van wyk made that side is beyond me - the selectors need to catch up - looks more like a quota system side to me. Surely s.a have better players than these two. s.a have the best chance possible to win this world cup - they just need to be sensible in chossing the right players - where are Albie Morkel, Mark Boucher, Wayne Parnell and Johan Botha - these are all competitive cricketers who have been in the game for some time compared to these novices.

Posted by Varun on (March 7, 2011, 19:21 GMT)

I think, Boucher would probably have been a better bet than Morne Van Wyk. When you have a world class wicket keeper, I do not see a need to replace him with a wicket keeper with about 10 ODIs and that to in the world cup. I hope this does not come to bite them in their behinds in the coming matches of the tournament. I want to see them make it to the semi-finals at least...

Posted by Harjinder on (March 7, 2011, 17:24 GMT)

HI SA fans! SA lost a great match .INGRAM must be called in 11.Tahir is an Asian blood.HE knows how the bowler can bat in last overs or a close match.You guys have already seen in asian teams like INDIA,LANKA,PAK............so he should be promoted up the other bowlers. ....Once again SA hurts its fans; real true cricket fans.....anyway GOOD LUCK..........

Posted by Gareth on (March 7, 2011, 16:13 GMT)

Duminy had an off day... he was one of the few to give any resistance against India in the home series when all about them were crumbling. He's averaging 66 this season; coming in at 5 or 6 and against Pakistan and India that's not bad.

But Van Wyk looked lost at sea; he managed not to get out but hardly contrinuted. Boucher must be wondering what he did wrong to get left out.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 7, 2011, 15:02 GMT)

Its a surprise that Albie is not in india where he is so popular and played so well for chennai superkings and i guess SA are going to rue this fact somewhere down in the tournament Smithy also has to perform at the top with the bat. With the best bowling attack in the tournament they should come close to the title hunt and Botha should be a certainty in the squad for his thinking and intellectual play. If there isnot any color selection policy they should leave robin peterson out

Posted by ziyaad on (March 7, 2011, 14:21 GMT)

What do you mean Duminy needs a 'sustained period of form'?!!!?? He is 3rd behind Devilliers and Amla amongst batsman in the world over the last year - averages over 50 with a strikerate over 80. He had two brilliant games (after an excellent series against India) but was outshone by AB and Amla. What about Smith? He has been poor for more than a year. I would open with Van Wyk. He can't play in the middle order because he can only cut and pull. At present they have only 3 batsmen - Amla, DeV and Duminy - the rest are eithe rin poor form or inexperienced at this level.

Posted by david on (March 7, 2011, 14:12 GMT)

the problem with albe morkel is his bowling is just not good enough. and as a hitter can be very good, but there are to many bad innings between his good ones. dpk

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