Where did South Africa's preparations go wrong?

Quinton de Kock dives to take the catch of Soumya Sarkar Getty Images

South Africa are out of contention for the semi-finals of the World Cup. For real this time. No more mathematical possibilities. No more must-wins.

With a 49-run defeat to an inspired Pakistan - their fifth loss in seven games - they're out. But did they ever really get here? Instead of falling at the final hurdle, as is traditional, their entire tournament has been one long, slow dive into disaster, their entire campaign essentially zombified from the beginning. In front of a partisan Lord's crowd on Sunday, the Protea Fire was well and truly doused.

How did it get so bad? The best-laid plans of Vision 2019, set in place a full two years ago, have amounted to precisely … what exactly? In totality, this has been South Africa's worst-ever World Cup campaign. Zoom in, and their problems on the field have been manifold and terminal. They have batted as if always a wicket away from collapse. What was supposed to be the most fearsome pace attack in the tournament has been steadily dismantled by injury and fatigue, and what remained of it has only been able to bowl a side out once in seven outings. Their fielding, normally a point of pride, has let them down when the pressure is on.

So broad have South Africa's failures been at this World Cup, it's rather a lot to take in and make sense of all at once. If you're struggling to fathom how a team that includes some of the most exciting young talent in the world and several bona fide legends failed so spectacularly, you're not alone. Here are some of the important numbers to help break it down

Vision 2019

30 - The total number of white-ball debuts handed out over the last two years. Alongside the regulars, South Africa trialled a great many limited-overs options under the auspices of Vision 2019, their grand plan for World Cup success. Much of the fuss in the last year was over who would fill the AB de Villiers-sized hole in the middle order, but only de Villiers could do that, and by the time he decided he wanted to, it was too late.

The tinkering continued all the way up to the home series against Sri Lanka that preceded the World Cup, but after all the chopping and changing, South Africa essentially went in with players they already knew, banking on Hashim Amla's experience over Reeza Hendricks' promise and even going so far as to include an injured Dale Steyn in their squad.

For all the rearranging (and possibly more questions than answers), South Africa had a Plan A all worked out, and it looked like everything was coming together over the course of their home season. Between November and March, South Africa beat Australia (2-1), Pakistan (3-2) and Sri Lanka (5-0). The batting was adventurous, an ailing Amla notwithstanding, with five hundreds scored, and the top seven averaged a combined 49.67. Their pace bowling was potent, taking wickets at an average of 26.60 and an economy of just 4.91. Kagiso Rabada looked every inch an attack leader, with 20 wickets at 24.90.

Reverse the above, and you have a good picture of how far short of expectation the execution of Vision 2019 was as compared to the planning. Five defeats (so far), no hundreds and a de-fanged pace attack, with Rabada's returns a meagre six wickets at 50.83.


4 - the number of times Hashim Amla has been out inside four overs during this World Cup - including his innings against England in the tournament opener, as even though Amla came back out to bat late in the innings, his knock was essentially over the moment Jofra Archer slipped a haymaker of a bouncer past his pull and into his grille.

South Africa's batsmen have struggled from the top down in this tournament, their top seven averaging just 32.55 with a top score of 68 and Chris Morris the only one to have struck at better than a run a ball. The comparison with other teams' batting returns is stark.

With early wickets in every match, South Africa's Powerplays have been anything but powerful, especially as Quinton de Kock has also fallen early in three games and has appeared as "hampered" as anyone. Against Pakistan on Sunday, he went as far as shelving his usually fluent repertoire of shots entirely in a bid for survival, not hitting a boundary until the 12th over. Even when de Kock has settled, he hasn't been able to convert fifties to hundreds or win games: South Africa lost three of the four games where he passed 20.

192 - the combined runs scored by David Miller and JP Duminy, across seven individual innings. Neither has been able to give South Africa's middle the oomph it needed, and Miller has hit just one six in the entire tournament. It might be argued that Duminy was lucky to make it into the World Cup squad at all, given that he has averaged under 31 across 53 ODIs since the last World Cup in 2015, without a single hundred, and missed most of the last season through injury. Their personal struggles for form have only been amplified by the failures of those above them in the order.


10,974 - The number of balls Kagiso Rabada, who turned 24 a month ago, has bowled in international cricket. He barely had a break in the six months leading up to the World Cup, and struggled for incision throughout the tournament, going wicketless against both Bangladesh and Pakistan. It's hard to argue with the feeling that Rabada has been over-bowled by South Africa, particularly over the last season, and his lacklustre performance is symptomatic of that.

If there's one thing Ottis Gibson could definitely have got right, it's South Africa's fast bowling - and this is one area that Vision 2019 paid particularly close attention to. One of the first things Gibson did when he took up the Proteas coaching job in 2017 is set up an elite fast bowling programme to help manage and nurture South Africa's fast bowlers. The cupboard looked full at the beginning of the season, but events out of his control steadily chipped away at what should have been South Africa's strength.

In February, Duanne Olivier put County over country, in April Dale Steyn's IPL (mis)adventure was cut short after two games, and in May - just three weeks out from the World Cup opener - a freak injury put Anrich Nortje out of contention. The injuries followed South Africa into the tournament, with Steyn limping home and a hobbled Lungi Ngidi missing vital games. Saddled with extra responsibility, a fatigued Rabada hasn't been able to perform as expected.

Andile Phehlukwayo and Chris Morris' combined 17 wickets have helped to paper over some of the cracks, and Imran Tahir found some rhythm to become South Africa's leading wicket-taker in all World Cups. But South Africa's match-winners were always going to be their big quicks.


6 - the number of dismissals David Miller effected in the field to win the Player-of-the-Match award in the first T20I against Pakistan four months ago. Miller took four catches and nailed two dead-eye run-outs (one with just a stump to aim at) in the space of 20 short overs. In this tournament, he's suddenly become a liability, dropping important catches in crunch moments and fumbling vital run-out chances. And he's not the only one.

11 - the number of catches South Africa have dropped in the World Cup, with Miller missing three of those. They have also missed 10 runouts - more than anyone but Australia.

Off the field

654 million - In October 2018, Cricket South Africa presented a report to a parliamentary sports portfolio committee, projecting losses of 654 million rands [approx. USD 47 million] over the next four years.

The Proteas World Cup horror show has played out in an unforgiving public eye, but an under-performing cricket team is hardly the only challenge currently being faced in South African cricket. Under financial pressure, Cricket South Africa's attempts at fixing the situation have so far amounted to one rushed and somewhat low-key, homegrown franchise T20 League, and a domestic revamp that landed in them in a court battle with SACA on the eve of the World Cup opener. The squabble with SACA and the wider issues being faced by CSA were the distracting back-drop to South Africa's World Cup campaign (and one to which de Villiers' 11th hour change of heart only added).

CSA increasingly lack the financial heft hold onto players who want to seek remuneration and reward elsewhere, as Olivier (and before him, Kyle Abbott) did, and even the power to have a real say in what their contracted players get up to. Case in point: an overbowled Rabada adding the IPL to his workload and subsequently injuring his back, and CSA's frustrated attempts to bring him home early - or have him not go at all.

All the above amounted to a perfect storm for South Africa, various problems compounding as it all unravelled. And in all of the above will they have to improve if their next campaign is to be any less disastrous.