The history of South Africa in World Cups has been well documented. That C word, over and over again. Stuck in the throats. On the lips of the media. Chokers. It was meant to be different this time around at CWC19.
Their bowling attack on paper was the strongest in the competition. In Kagiso Rabada they had arguably the best fast bowler in the world. In Dale Steyn they had the man who passed that particular baton to his younger team-mate. While in the ageless Imran Tahir they finally seemed to have that legspinner who can cause damage in the middle overs.
Despite the recurrence of a shoulder injury that held Steyn out of the opener against England, things started perfectly. Just two balls into the game and Tahir turned the ball off the edge of Jonny Bairstow’s bat and he walked back to the pavilion. The hosts were wobbling.
CWC19: Where to now for South Africa?
From that point on the tournament has spun out of control.
A comprehensive defeat to England was followed by a shock loss to unfancied Bangladesh, Steyn was ruled out of the remainder of the competition before a third defeat at the hands of India left South Africa staring down the barrel of elimination less than two weeks into the World Cup. A washout against the West Indies has left very little room for mistakes.
Where has it all gone wrong for a side that was expected to push for the semi-finals?
As expected the bowling has stepped up on the most part but the batting has failed to live up to its billing despite all of the star names. On paper Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla, and David Miller should score enough runs to be competitive but sport isn’t played on paper and after four matches the Proteas need to tear up the script and start again. Not just for this World Cup but in ODIs in general.
Much like the movie with all the star power, this South African batting lineup has the names but somewhere in the process, the plot has become muddled. Time and time again their lines have become muddled. JP Duminy throwing his wicket away against England, Rassie van der Dussen being bowled reverse sweeping in the India match and Duminy (again) wasting the team’s review in one of the most obvious LBW decisions of the tournament so far.
Between the mistakes, you can see the glimpses of a strong side.
In wicketkeeper-batsman, de Kock, they have a player who has scored the sixth most runs in ODIs since the last World Cup. Add that to his eight centuries at a strike rate of exactly 100 and he is the archetypal batsman for where 50 over cricket has transitioned to in the past four years.
If de Kock was ascending during that time span, his opening partner was regressing. Even prior to his injury at the hands of Jofra Archer, the form of Amla has been on the slide. Since being hit in the helmet by that bouncer he has scored just 12 runs in two innings. He has long been a fine player but this gradual decline has been evident for some time now. His career average is 48.98 but in the last 12 months that has dropped all the way down to 33.33 with just a single century. It may be time for the 36-year-old to move aside.
Even if the classy Amla was to step away then there would still be a wealth of experience in the middle of the batting order but the veterans have not played with the maturity that their cap totals would suggest.
Despite having made over 100 appearances David Miller has yet to find his role in the side. His profile would suggest that he could be their answer to Jos Buttler. His power hitting has been on display across the world in T20 leagues but that has yet to transfer to the stat sheets at the International level. While Buttler has become one of the most feared batsmen in the sport, Miller continues to frustrate with his inconsistencies. The 30-year-old is now a vastly experienced player and he needs to take on the responsibility for scoring a match winning total, quick-fire 30s are not what this side needs. Failure to do so might see him fall by the wayside.
Needing to be faultless from here on out to progress, this could be a sliding doors moment for South Africa.
They can continue down their current path. Sticking with the well-known names. Yearning for the return of AB de Villiers. Or, they can follow the path laid out by their hosts. Focus on the play and not the names on the back of the shirts. Play with freedom and embrace the exuberance of youth.
This World Cup could become synonymous with South Africa for the C word again. Not that one but Change.