Ja, this ... THIS ... is what we’ll be up against again, my petals
Will this World Cup be different for the Proteas? If it isn’t it won’t be for want of plotting and planning
Australia, mate. No team have won a bigger proportion of their World Cup games. Neither have anyone else claimed the trophy as many as five times. Their closest rivals are West Indies and India, who’ve done it twice each.
Who’s the next most successful World Cup side in terms of ratio of games won? Here’s a few clues: they’ve never won it, they also wear yellow (but mostly green) and they’ve made an unhappy habit of folding under pressure.
Yup, SA, the team their compatriots love to love until they disappear down another rabbit hole of unforced errors – most of them starring batting straight out of a zombie movie.
Faf du Plessis, who will have a go at bucking the trend as SA’s captain in this year’s World Cup in England, thinks he knows why the Saffers’ cookie has crumbled the way it has. In short, it’s the bowling, not the batting, stupid.
“We’ve had a very long and very strong batting lineup in tournaments before, and it didn’t prove successful for us as a team,” Du Plessis told reporters in Cape Town after his team cruised to a 5-0 greenwash in their one-day series against Sri Lanka.
His exhibit A was Pakistan coming from nowhere to win the 2017 Champions Trophy, which was also played in England.
“They had a very average batting lineup. They didn’t have close to the best batting lineup in the tournament, but it didn’t matter to them because they kept bowling teams out.”
Actually, Pakistan dismissed their opponents in only three of their five games. But Du Plessis could be onto something.
Pakistanis delivered six of the 50 highest individual innings in the tournament – exactly half as many as India, the side they beat in the final. And with the ball? Thirteen of the best 45 performances by bowlers came from Pakistan. India? Eight. On top of that, fully half of the top eight economy rates in the tournament were returned by Pakistan bowlers.
You could apply similar logic to the fact that no Australian features among the World Cup record-holders for most runs, highest score, highest average, highest strike rate, highest partnership, most centuries or most half-centuries.
But the prizes for most wickets, lowest average, and best figures in a match belong to Aussies. Rather, to one Aussie: Glenn McGrath. For variation, the second-best bowling performance in a World Cup game was also the work of a player in pineapple yellow – Andy Bichel and his 7/20 against England at St George’s Park in 2003.
“Statistically I’ve looked at it long and hard, and myself and the coach [Ottis Gibson] have worked on exactly the style of team we think have the potential to win it,” Du Plessis said. “We believe, going to England, if your bowlers can win you matches then you’ve got a big chance.”
It’s all about the balance, then; the trick of having enough batters and bowlers in the right places at the right times to end up on the right side of the equation significantly more often than not.
That means a top six who score most of the runs reliably and four frontline bowlers who know how to get people out, or at least stop them from scoring.
“The top six we have are still the best six batters in the country, and we’ve worked hard on making sure our No 7 can contribute with the bat as well,” Du Plessis said. “It’s a trade-off in that we don’t have a long batting lineup, but I’ve been part of the other side.”
It’s not, of course, that simple. In the 14 World Cup games Du Plessis has played, all of them in 2011 and 2015, SA were dismissed only four times, bowled out their opponents 10 times, and won nine times.
Despite that, and boasting a better win-loss record than 18 teams who have played in the tournament – including four who have won it – they’ve advanced as far as the semifinals only twice and don’t know what it feels like to be in a final.
Will this time be different? If it isn’t it won’t be for want of plotting and planning, which will reach an important stage in the coming weeks when the squad is revealed.
“We’ve taken close to two years to get where we needed to be in terms of the names,” Du Plessis said. “You have to be true to that because you’ve given it time and you’ve given it maturity to grow and to see how it evolves.
“But you also have to allow that 1%, or maybe 2%, where you go, ‘Which guys are red hot and striking really good form?’ … someone who’s in a real purple patch.”
You say percentage. I say proportion. Let’s call the whole thing off and get to the cricket already.