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Firdose Moonda in Centurion
March 3, 2013
After a defeat as dramatic as the one South Africa suffered, identifying positives is like looking for stars in a murky sky shrouded by clouds. It's not a fruitless endeavour because if you spot one it may lighten more than just the velvet overhead, but it is a tough one because there are so few.
Faf du Plessis found one. "Probably the only thing was AB [de Villiers]," he said. "We would expect AB to work anywhere in a line-up because he has got the skill to attack the bowlers but it was good to see him for well in the opening position. That was the one thing that worked for us today."
Having found the one bright spot, which he was asked to do early in his press engagement, du Plessis was more than ready to front up to South Africa's failings. To blanket them as everything other than de Villiers' 36 would be too simplistic.
It was a combination of being outplayed by two individuals, inexperience, poor bowling and panicking with bat in hand that conspired to bring South Africa down. The last of those is something they have been through before and even though this time they were skittled out for their lowest T20 total, it was the area du Plessis gave the least attention to.
"We know that the shorter the version of the game, the more one individual can win it," he said. "With Umar Gul, it was just a case of us trying to win the game and going hard at the run rate upfront. I think it was definitely [Mohammad] Hafeez's 86 that changed the game for them.
"When a team posts close to 200, you know it is going to take something very special from your batsmen. One guy is going to have to score close to 100 for you to be in contention to win." Collectively, South Africa only just managed that. Their last nine wickets managed about half of it.
Before the Powerplay had ended, South Africa knew they had lost the match. Focusing on that would not give proper attention to where they were actually defeated and du Plessis believed that was on the field. "There was a time when I thought we were giving Hafeez too many options and he was scoring on both sides of the wicket."
He was also finding space easily with South Africa's fielders unable to cover enough ground and the bowlers offering lengths that allowed Hafeez to pick his spot.
Bar Lonwabo Tsotsobe's first two overs and the occasional good ball from Rory Kleinveldt, the seamers lacked variety and used the slower ball too infrequently, instead hoping their usual approach would work. Du Plessis hopes they have realised it does not. "The bowlers need to practice different varieties. The days of bowling back of a length to a team in South Africa are gone now," he said.
With a pitch du Plessis said was "basically a road," the gap between the teams was narrowed. The conclusion he made was that, in neutral conditions and in the shorter format, "Pakistan's skill is better than ours."
He has with him a young squad who do not often play as a unit. They lack cohesion and the spunk to make up for it. Du Plessis believes the only way it will change is by playing more and being open-minded. "We would like to play more T20 cricket to learn and improve, especially improving our skills. Batsman need to have more variety in shots, bowlers need to bowl more slower balls."
The main focus is on the World T20 in Bangladesh in 2014 and those tactics will be needed there. South Africa will also need a strong spin contingent, something they obviously lacked today. Robin Peterson and Justin Ontong gave away 58 runs in their overs to negate themselves as viable options for du Plessis to turn to. "Our spin department will admit their four overs were not good. There were too many bad balls," he said.
With neither the seamers nor the slower bowlers able to tie things up, du Plessis found it a difficult day to be a leader. "The pressure of T20 cricket is more than any other cricket because things happen so fast," he said. "I just tried to keep everybody calm."
South Africa's next T20 match is in July when they tour Sri Lanka for a limited-overs visit. The sporadic nature of fixtures makes it difficult for du Plessis to have as much time with his team as he would like.
He can only hope experiences in the domestic competition, which is on-going, and at leagues like the IPL will help their development before they reconvene. "My game improved hugely after the IPL just because I was playing more cricket. The more you play, the better you get," he said. It's a thought that may lessen the acidity of a loss that left South Africa's limited-overs approach exposed, again.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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After the tragedy of Phillip Hughes' death, this match showed that cricket and life will continue to go on. This time Test cricket dug in and got through to tea.
The new stand-in captain has the makings of a long-term leader, given his ability to stay ahead of the game
Turning your back on a system that the whole cricketing world wants a discussion on, refusing to discuss it because it is not 100%, is not good enough
After a long time we have seen an Indian team and captain enjoy the challenge of trying to overcome stronger opposition in an overseas Test