South Africa's stuttering one-day form hit another low point with their comprehensive 39-run defeat against England and it left Graeme Smith fuming at the basic errors made in the field. The reversal leaves them facing a crucial match against Pakistan in St Lucia on Monday if they want to progress to the semi-finals and on this effort that is anything but certain.
After an efficient performance against New Zealand two nights ago South Africa reverted to the indifferent form that has plagued their displays in coloured clothes since last year's World Twenty20 in England, where they reached the semi-finals. Since then they have been dumped out of the first round of the Champions Trophy on home soil, shared the Twenty20 series with England, lost the ODI contest and also pulled up short in India.
What made it even more frustrating for Smith was that they created chances but a combination of bowling and fielding errors meant they didn't count. Within the space of three deliveries Craig Kieswetter was caught at third man off a Morne Morkel no-ball and Kevin Pietersen edged between Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis. Then, in the 10th over, Kieswetter was given a second life when JP Duminy spilled a simple chance at deep midwicket.
"I think the first six overs were especially disappointing," Smith said. "Basic mistakes, no-balls, and missed chances up-front proved costly for us. We really could have had England three or four down in those first six overs and all the plans we had up-front worked, Morne bowling at Kevin and Kieswetter, they worked for us but basic mistakes allowed them to get a partnership that has proven to be the difference between the two teams.
"The game is often about small moments and pressure. We cost ourselves a lot by not being up to those small moments and we allowed England to put us under pressure."
Of particular concern for Smith will be the front-foot problems for Morkel, who has now taken two crucial wickets in this tournament off illegal deliveries. In South Africa's opening match against India he had Suresh Raina caught at mid-off from a no-ball and the left-hander went on to get a match-winning 101. Kieswetter's contribution wasn't so substantial, but the impact on South Africa's mindset was significant.
"It is very frustrating and something we have spoken about," Smith said. "It seems to come and go, he goes through phases where he doesn't bowl them and then he goes through phases when he does. I guess it is up to the bowling coach and Morne to get it right."
The problem is that South Africa's strategy is based around the twin pace threat posed by Morkel and Dale Steyn, although that game-plan may now have to be adjusted for the final group match on the slower surface in St Lucia. "The players are there. It is just about getting it together again," Smith said.
"We proved against New Zealand that we can play to a certain level and be difficult to beat. It is about us regrouping mentally, making sure that tomorrow we work out what went wrong and try and put it right against Pakistan. St Lucia is a very different wicket, a different stadium, so we need to be able to put that into play in those conditions."
Despite the fumbling display in the field South Africa would have been expected to make a better fist of the run chase, but the top order couldn't find any early momentum and then England's spinners preyed on the batsmen's frustrations. "I found the wicket pretty two paced and hard to play freely on," Smith said.
"Everyone of our batters struggled except for JP [Duminy] really. You have to give credit to England's bowlers. They hit the right areas, they didn't give us any room, they tucked us up, hit the deck nice and hard, almost the total opposite to the way we bowled in the first six."