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December 18, 2012
A return to a problem of old hampered South Africa the last time they played in the shortest format at the World Twenty20. Middle-order batsman Farhaan Behardien suggested instability in the line-up was to blame for the team returning empty handed.
"Where we struggled in Sri Lanka was that we lost early wickets and then the slow bowlers come on and it was difficult to rebuild," he said. Apart from the match against Zimbabwe, which South Africa won by ten wickets, they lost their first two batsmen for a maximum of 28 runs in the other fixtures.
The combination of Richard Levi and Hashim Amla did not work and when Levi was dropped for the final match, Jacques Kallis partnered Amla also with little success. Neither Kallis nor Amla is part of the current squad, although Levi is. If he plays, he is expected to be joined at the top by either the captain Faf du Plessis or the uncapped Henry Davids , who could also form a partnership of their own.
While different pairs could solve the issue to an extent, South Africa's floating middle order also unsettles them. As they aim to build a new-look T20 side, starting with the matches against New Zealand, role definition and countering the spin threat have become two of the major areas under consideration.
Behardien indicated that the first of those had already been ironed out, especially for him. "My job is assessing the risk. If we lose early wickets upfront, my job is risk management and seeing how we can maximise the remaining overs to get to a high total. And to play the spinners low risk," he said. "But if we have a good start, without too many wickets in the first few overs, we can take on the spinners. That's one of our focuses going forward."
Even without Daniel Vettori in the New Zealand line-up, South Africa are wary of New Zealand's spinners. Ronnie Hira, the left-armer, took three wickets in the warm-up match against South Africa A, including that of Justin Ontong, while Nathan McCullum was economical in his three overs of offspin. "We've had a lot of practice against spin in the one-day cup," Behardien said.
With the major emphasis on technical aspects, South Africa could forget that a transition phase also involves building a new team culture but Berhardien said that has been equally high on their agenda. With regular limited-overs captain AB de Villiers opting out of the series, stand-in leader du Plessis will have to create his own environment for the players to excel in.
Du Plessis captained South Africa A against Sri Lanka A in June and the players who were involved in that series, like Behariden, got a taste of his leadership style. "He is very big on team culture. Everybody is not for themselves. You've got to give, you've got to be selfless, whether it be throw-downs, extra catches, helping generally, packing up the kit- those very small things."
Most importantly, with the pressure of a major tournament not hanging over them, Berhardien hopes the mood in the camp will lighten. "It's all been a bit serious over the last while and sometimes we forget that we need to have fun and express ourselves.
"As players we get stiff and we get tight because we want to do so well and perform for our country. So you forget that this is what you've been wanting to do since you were a little kid and when you forget about those values then you don't really perform at your best, because you are too tense and worrying the whole time about the results."
Russell Domingo, South Africa's new Twenty20 coach, said he will not look as far ahead as the 2014 World T20. The upcoming matches are more about laying the groundwork for a short-form unit that can go on and replicate the successes of the Test side.
"The team culture won't be much different to what is in the Test side," Behardien said. "It might be tweaked a bit with a new captain and a new coach. Sometimes the same thing can be said in a slightly different way and it could make a world of difference to the individual and something could click. I think it is a fresh approach and I am quite excited to be a part of it."
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