x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

India and South Africa both flatter to deceive again

Osman Samiuddin, our man in Colombo, explains why both teams crashed out of the World Twenty20.

Apart from under-utilising himself as a batsman, AB de Villiers's captaincy has been poor. Lakruwan Wanniarachchi / AFP
Apart from under-utilising himself as a batsman, AB de Villiers's captaincy has been poor. Lakruwan Wanniarachchi / AFP

COLOMBO // At least nobody was going to say that South Africa did you know what.

It was brought up once after they lost to Pakistan (a match in which they did not really choke because they should not have even come close to winning it) but that was just a regulation query.

But after they lost to India last night, their captain AB de Villiers, unprompted, said his side had "choked the [Pakistan] game".

If it does not come up at least once at an ICC tournament, then it is not really an ICC tournament.

They did not really choke over the course of three games, but they are still out, still without a major ICC trophy since 1998.

And if not choking is a consolation, in this case it is only comparable to remembering you have nine fingers left immediately after one has been chopped off.

Like so many other tournaments they again looked such a threat before it. They arrived as the format's top-ranked side, although the rankings are still at a hollow and formative stage currently and not to be taken entirely seriously.

The squad looked so healthily balanced. An in-form opening batsman in Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis returning to the format more attuned to it, further batting depth in De Villiers and JP Duminy, useful spinners and a dangerous pace duo.

Maybe they were missing another high-quality all-rounder but they should have been contenders still.

Room must be made for the fine margins of Twenty20 of course.

Had they beaten Pakistan in that first game who knows how the group would have panned out. And in that match, it really did feel for a while that this was a newish South Africa playing, one which plays poorly on a big occasion but still guts out a win.

But there has just been something not right about them.

The captain has been poor, primarily but not exclusively, in utilising himself far too low down the order for the two games that mattered.

Apparently he believes he is better used further down, when there are fewer overs to play with but that logic does not hold for such a gifted cross-format player, even after a cheap dismissal last night at one down.

Throw in some poor tactical decisions (not bowling Johan Botha during Umar Gul's freewheeling biffing the poorest of them), a pretty steep slide in their generally impeccable fielding standards and another global event has slipped South Africa by.

The sense that De Villiers felt overwhelmed was not eased by his words later.

"I'll have to go back home, clear my mind before I start taking some learning out of this," he said. "It's still spinning a bit, not really knowing exactly where we went wrong."

It felt like a confession.

Probably the more illustrative example of how thin the lines are in this format come from India who only lost one game and are out, but lost that one badly enough.

The concerns about their bowling throughout were proved both right and wrong. They actually bowled sides out in four of their five games but were so poor against Australia – and MS Dhoni's insistence that the drizzle accounted for that still is not convincing enough – that they are out before the semi-finals once again.

Actually the last over of their campaign, from Lakshmipathy Balaji last night, just about sums up the cumulative effect of their bowling. Two rubbish deliveries were tonked for six, but two better ones got wickets. Ultimately it was just about enough to sneak a win, but not enough to take them further.

Dhoni was frank in his assessment afterwards.

"When wickets don't support our bowlers we struggle, especially on flat wickets we find it more difficult rather than seaming wickets," he said. "I would prefer a turning track or a seaming wicket because it suits our bowlers."

More clear-cut was the unshakable sense that there is a jadedness about this side.

Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan (although he bowled beautifully on occasions but in a Test or ODI sense), Harbhajan Singh, Gautam Gambhir, even Dhoni himself; these are players who have been around for a number of World T20s now and India have not made it into the knockouts on three successive occasions.

That should be indication enough that the time for change is at hand.


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