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South Africa, for once, cannot be accused of letting pressure get to them at a major tournament, but did they make the best use of their resources?
April 5, 2014
When Albie Morkel was recalled to South Africa's T20 squad after an 18-month hiatus from international cricket, he did not know exactly what his role would be. After five matches at the World T20, he probably still doesn't.
Morkel batted at No. 6 to begin with, moved down to No. 7, up to No. 5 and back down to No. 6. He faced 26 balls in the tournament, hit three sixes and never spent more than 18 minutes at the crease. He went from being South Africa's fifth bowler to taking the new ball, took one wicket while going at an economy rate of 9.20, and did not once bowl his full quota of four overs.
That is not as confusing as it is wasteful, which is what South Africa were with most of their resources at the World T20. The blame lies somewhere between under-planning and over-planning, trusting the statistics more than the situation, and having the parts but not knowing how to put them all together.
Morkel was brought in cold off a domestic season in which he did not sparkle. He was not among the top 15 run-scorers or wicket-takers in the Ram Slam T20 tournament. He lay in 18th place in the batting charts, with one fifty and an average of 28.80, and took only two wickets in 10 matches. He was picked on reputation. He did not have any game time under the new T20 regime, with Faf du Plessis as captain and Russell Domingo as coach, and South Africa did not know what to do with him. He was not the only one.
They were also unconvincing in their use of David Miller and AB de Villiers, although they knew they wanted to hold de Villiers back for the second half of the innings because the numbers show he plays better when he comes in after 10 overs. That his two biggest scores of the tournament, 69 and 29, were scored in such circumstances lends some credence to the theory.
They wished Dale Steyn could bowl all 20 overs but because he could not, they chose to use him mostly at the end of innings. In so doing, there was not as much room to manoeuvre with the other bowlers as they might have liked. That is not to say South Africa were inflexible or predictable, a overused criticism they sometimes get, just that they were unsure and a little unsettled.
From their first match they had to make an adjustment because du Plessis had not recovered from a hamstring strain in time. They only had one option. The extra batsman was Farhaan Behardien, so he had to play, but it was obvious South Africa would rather not have had him.
Behardien was slotted to bat at No. 5 but he was pushed down to No. 7 as South Africa chased 166 against Sri Lanka. Effectively they left themselves a batsman short by using Behardien so low down, he made no impact, and they pushed David Miller and Morkel up with the same result.
At 110 for 3 in the 14th over, South Africa wanted boundaries, so there was some method to their madness. Miller was sent in at No. 5. He had the little bit of the time he often needs to settle in and looked in fairly good touch. However, there was no reason not to bat Behardien when the next wicket fell, but Morkel was sent in instead.
|Collectively South Africa sent down 32 wides across the five matches - five overs and two balls more than they needed to bowl. In an event where margins are small, that could very well be one reason why they will not be part of the final|
When Morkel was informed he was back in the fold, he said he thought between him, Duminy, de Villiers and Miller, they would be the finishers. The problem is that teams do not need four finishers, especially because in South Africa's case they only had one starter, Hashim Amla, and they saw it in that match. After two strong blows Morkel was gone, South Africa needed 33 in three and a half overs and pressure came down on Behardien like a brick wall. He contributed only 5 runs before falling to a big shot.
Behardien's ability as an international player is yet to be proved and South Africa did not make it any easier for him with the way they used him. He stood in for du Plessis again when the captain was suspended for slow over rate and, again, he was leapfrogged in the line-up. South Africa were 120 for 3 in the 15th over against England when they sent in Miller, who added 19, and 174 for 4 in the 19th when Morkel was pushed up. Behardien, due to bat No.7, never got the chance.
What that says is that South Africa did not have confidence in Behardien to bat in an important situation. They wanted Miller and Morkel to do it, but neither had enough time in the middle to find form. It raises the question of why they took Behardien along in the first place. The same can be asked about Aaron Phangiso. A second specialist spinner is a rarity in a South Africa XI and they only had one chance to include him, in the semi-final, but did not.
Instead JP Duminy was used in a second-spinner role, and he even opened the bowling on three occasions. South Africa held the record for the most expensive average first over in the tournament - 10.6 runs. Steyn only delivered the opening over once. Without a recognised death bowler, South Africa needed him to be their hangman and decided the noose should only be tied at the latter stages of an innings.
In all four matches in which they defended a total, Steyn did not open the bowling and South Africa needed to haul the opposition back after they got off to fast starts. The earliest South Africa took a wicket when bowling second was the fourth over, and they had two opening stands of 50 and one of 46 scored against them. Because they did not strike early, they were always playing catch-up. Three times, Imran Tahir, Beuran Hendricks and Steyn helped them to. In the semi, they did not.
That does not mean South Africa did not gain anything from this tournament. Hendricks' domestic form has become international promise. He has a mature temperament, a good slower-ball bouncer that he is not scared to use, and he is only 23. That South Africa took the bold step of including him at the expense of Morne Morkel, who performed badly in the second match, indicates progress. Not only did they gamble on an inexperienced but in-form player, they dropped a stalwart, which in the past South African administrators have been reluctant to do.
Lonwabo Tsotsobe was the next victim of the chop. His replacement, Wayne Parnell, is exciting but can be wayward. His control can be worked on, though, and to be fair to him, the whole South African attack needs to do the same. Collectively they sent down 32 wides across the five matches - five overs and two balls more than they needed to bowl. In an event where margins are small, that could very well be one reason why South Africa will not be part of the final.
There are others, of course: Virat Kohli's perfectly paced knock, R Ashwin's stellar spell, and the simple fact that India seem a few steps ahead of everyone else in this competition. South Africa lost to a better-organised and more self-assured side.
Unlike in 2011, South Africa will not leave Bangladesh wondering if they could have dealt with pressure better, but they will ask themselves if they could have used what they had differently. And they will have another chance to do that at next year's World Cup, when this story will begin all over again.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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Stats highlights from the first day of the second Test between Australia and India in Brisbane