JOHANNESBURG – As South Africa quietly exited the T20 World Cup with a comprehensive win over Sri Lanka on Monday in Delhi, it meant another failed campaign for the only top-eight side in the world to have not reached a World Cup or T20 final since 1992.
The latest campaign ended for the Proteas before they had even played their final game as they lost out to the West Indies in their penultimate group match. South Africa posted a meagre 122/8 against the Caribbean outfit, and though the bowlers brought it back near the end of the opposition’s chase it was a total way short of par. The worst bowling display by the Proteas was in the opening game when they failed to defend 229/4, as England chased down the target with relative ease.
The most obvious target for criticism is coach Russell Domingo with many calling for his head. The coach, however, is not responsible for players not performing in pressure moments. What he is responsible for is player selection, and in that area, there remain burning questions. Questions like, what precisely is the role of ageing fast bowler Dale Steyn? Steyn has been plagued by injury in recent times, the latest an injury he picked up in the Boxing Day Test against England.
He only recovered just in time for the World Cup, having played four warm-up matches before the tournament, which yielded three wickets at an average of 40. The 32-year-old played just two matches in the tournament taking one wicket for the cost of 68 runs and the worst economy rate of the South African attack – 11.33 runs per over.
It was revealing in the England game where Steyn was smashed for 35 in two overs, as he was not brought back into the attack to complete his four overs.
It was much the same situation with Quinton de Kock last year at the 50-over World Cup, the player was chosen on reputation despite coming off an injury and hardly any match practice. At the time, Dolphins opener Morne van Wyk had been in prolific form and could have easily been included in the side.
Back to this tournament, left-arm spinner Aaron Phangiso (2/26 v Sri Lanka & 1/19 v West Indies) was outstanding in the two matches he played. Phangiso should have been the logical choice ahead of Steyn in spin-friendly conditions. Instead, the Proteas opted for Steyn in the England match, and that backfired badly.
Failing to defend a target of 230 is almost unforgivable, though, and the rest of the bowling attack should share the blame with the exception of Imran Tahir who returned outstanding figures of 1/28 from his four overs in the face of the England onslaught.
Another selection mystery is the inclusion of both Chris Morris and David Wiese against Afghanistan and the West Indies. Since the retirement of Jacques Kallis, there has been a search to fill the void left in the all-rounder role. But including two fast-bowling allrounders does not solve the problem. It has to be a case that one or the other is selected, but again the South African selectors appear unable to make bolder selection calls in this regard.
Then there is fast-bowling prodigy Kagiso Rabada. In the absence of Steyn, the 20-year-old has had the responsibility of leading the Proteas attack.
Much of the time he has been brilliant, but appearing in just about every match South Africa have played since November when he made his Test debut has affected his performances.
Though management has said they will try and manage the biggest star on the South African cricket horizon at the moment, his heavy workload is hardly helping. The best example of this was Rabada being the most expensive of the South African attack as he conceded 50 in his four overs against England.
Ultimately, South Africa need to have a clearer, bolder idea on selection issues. If they don’t ask the difficult, uncomfortable questions they will most certainly be left with the same ones after the next knockout tournament.