India vs New Zealand | Williamson’s Merry Band…

It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep can do.

Or maybe just a night. We don’t actually know how much sleeping was done, or whether it was any good. Especially not New Zealand’s.

Chances are they were restless knowing they only had 211 runs on the board and 23 balls left to face in the World Cup semi-final. Ross Taylor would have struggled to close his eyes and clear his mind. He was still in but he had seen his captain’s battle to get the ball away and he knew he would have to get it away a good few times to give his team his a chance. Kane Williamson would have carried the heavy feeling of premature regret. Could he have batted quicker? Matt Henry and Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson and Colin de Grandhomme and Mitchell Santner might have tossed and turned and thought over how they would go about defending what was being spoken about as the indefensible.

Somewhere else in Manchester, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya would have put their feet up, satisfied with their day’s work. Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli would have drifted off, dreaming of London and Lord’s, MS Dhoni and Ravi Jadeja must have slept soundest of all, fairly sure they were unlikely to be needed in a small chase.

Little did they know that the next day would be filled with nerves, a nightmare for one side, a dream come true for the other.

Both sides will need to pinch themselves a few times to make sure it’s real. Jimmy Neesham may have to pinch himself several times to believe that he had gone from cheering in the stands four years ago to taking the wicket that booked New Zealand’s spot in Sunday’s final. Neesham was New Zealand’s most expensive bowler on the day but instead of costing them, he was the cause of the final celebrations. One night can make a difference, but so can four years.

Then, New Zealand were chasing, there was also rain and South Africa were reliant on a bowling attack that balked at the final hurdle. Here, New Zealand’s batting has done that all tournament. They are still too reliant on Williamson and, to a lesser extent, Taylor and they still haven’t found any consistency around those two players and there’s no time to think seriously about how to change that. Not for this tournament. Instead, New Zealand to zone in on their strengths: their collective ability to stay calm even when chaos is all around and their crafty attack that reduced the most hailed batting line-up in this tournament to 5 for 3 and 92 for 6. If New Zealand are going to win the World Cup, they will do it through them.

Trent Boult and Matt Henry understood conditions perfectly and found the fuller length that challenged India’s top-order. Henry’s reward was the wicket of Rohit Sharma, who had reeled off three consecutive hundreds before this match but didn’t move his feet to a ball that angled away just enough to take the edge. Boult’s was that of Virat Kohli, also done by late swing. And then came the catch. Tom Latham flung himself in front of Taylor at first slip to cling on to the chance from KL Rahul. That’s the effort and the commitment New Zealand have become known for and that catch sent the message that they were in the fight.

By the end of the 10th over, Neesham had also made his mark with a stunning one-handed catch at backward point that left India 24 for 4. Remember Ben Stokes’ catch in the opening match? No, me neither, because this one is the grab of the tournament. India had just a 17% chance of winning the match from that point, odds which increased steadily as Rishabh Pant settled, despite New Zealand’s constant squeeze.

Martin Guptill threw himself at a ball that was destined for four, to keep it to one, Lockie Ferguson induced two false strokes from Pant, both chances went up in the air and fell safe and then beat him for pace. Pant’s potential is undeniable but today India needed more than that and it came when Pant was dismissed by Mitchell Santner.

Before discussing the experience that strolled out next, words of praise must be showered on the left-arm spinner. Far from operating in the shadow of the seamers, Santner wrested control with a six-over spell that cost just seven runs and included 29 dot balls and two wickets. His second was that of Hardik Pandya, who was strangled too long and had to let loose, only to offer Williamson a skier.

Juxtapose Santner’s performance against the partnership between Dhoni and Jadeja – the record for the seventh-wicket at a World Cup – and the push and pull of the latter stages of the chase are evident. Dhoni might be the original finisher but Jadeja was the man with a point to prove after the “bits and pieces,” comments that have done the rounds. He made New Zealand nervous, he negated Boult when he was brought back on in the 34th over to try and finish it off, he scored the first boundary off Santner – a six – he took on Ferguson and he made Dhoni run hard.

India needed 90 runs off the final ten overs and fifty off the last five in a match were the run-rate had not even touched six an over. But the way Jadeja was playing it seemed possible even though New Zealand field like a team with double their number on the park. They are everywhere, trying to stop everything, and quietly allow the pot to boil until the lid blows off. That’s how Jadeja was dismissed: holing out and leaving it to the veteran, Dhoni, to fix.

It became a case of who was going to move faster. At first, it seemed like it could be Dhoni. Despite dawdling his way through this tournament, he brought out version 2011 when he smacked Lockie Ferguson for six off the first ball of the penultimate over. Advantage India again. Until Guptill, nondescript since his unbeaten 73 in the opening game, pulled off the run-out that put New Zealand in control. Ferguson and Neesham finished off to put New Zealand into a second successive final in a similarly thrilling way to 2015.

Grant Elliott’s six off Dale Steyn has become the stuff of legend, Henry and Boult’s opening bursts, Neesham’s catch and Guptill’s run-out all belong in that same book. Somehow, despite flagging at the back-end of the group stage, despite coming into the semi-final after three straight defeats, despite a batting performance that seemed to belong in ODIs of two decades’ ago, despite an interrupted match which required an overnight restart, New Zealand scrapped their way to the final.

If one sleep could make this much difference, imagine what four can do. That’s how many there are before Sunday’s final. Sweet dreams.

India vs New Zealand: Bat Big, Hit Rohit with …

If New Zealand could only pick one thing that they need to do to give themselves the best chance of beating India in the World Cup semi-final, it’s obvious what they would choose. Get Rohit Sharma out early. Very early.

The tournament’s leading run-scorer has already made history by becoming the first man to score five centuries at a World Cup and with three in his last three innings, he shows little sign of stopping. But New Zealand already know if they can get rid of Rohit early, they will open India up.

In the warm-up match, played five days before the tournament started and 10 before India’s opener, Rohit was trapped lbw by Trent Boult second ball.  India were dismissed for 179 and New Zealand made it known that they were genuine contenders for the title with a six-wicket win.

But that was a warm-up match and India will insist their intensity was deliberately low. On the evidence of their commanding performances through the group stage, it will be difficult to argue with them. They gave every other opposition problems – even England who are the only team to have beaten them so far – except New Zealand, whose match against India was washed out.

At the least, that means this semi-final will give us something we haven’t already seen at this tournament. In fact, it’s giving us something we haven’t seen in 16 years at a World Cup because New Zealand and India have not played each other in a World Cup match since they met at Centurion in 2003. Then, India were on a march to the final and dismissed New Zealand for 146, before teetering on 21 for 3, and cruising to the target with 9.2 overs to spare.

A lot may have changed about India in the decade-and-a-half since but taking early wickets was still the most effective way then and Shane Bond was the man who answered the call. He dismissed Virender Sehwag in his first over and Sourav Ganguly in his second. And then there was the small matter of Daryl Tuffey getting rid of Sachin Tendulkar. New Zealand could find no way through Mohammad Kaif or Rahul Dravid though but it’s not India’s middle-order they will be worried about this time.

(Source: AP Photo)

MS Dhoni’s go-slows are a far cry from the finisher he used to be and while Hardik Pandya has a trio of 40s to his name, but hasn’t done the kind of damage that he could and Rishabh Pant, reputation and all, has only just arrived. Taking this into account makes it even more important for New Zealand to apply early aggression because the sooner they can get these men in the middle, the sooner they can put India’s line-up under real pressure.

Though that doesn’t necessarily answer the question of how New Zealand will find their way past India’s top-order, their records hold some clues. Tim Southee is the third-most successful limited-overs’ bowler against Rohit and has dismissed him five times in 15 innings. Boult is the fifth-most successful and has Rohit’s number four out of 12 times. The angle Boult creates has proved problematic for Rohit in the past, as recently as the warm-up game which puts even more importance on how the New Zealand new-ball bowler approaches his first spell. He cannot afford to be anything but entirely accurate and aggressive.

Naturally, New Zealand’s bowlers can only do half the job and the rest has to happen in the line-up, which has been disappointing throughout the tournament. New Zealand are the only one of the semi-finalists who have not crossed 300 at this tournament. On four occasions, that has not been because of any fault of their own – they chased scores under 200 twice, against Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, and under 250 twice, against Bangladesh and South Africa. The only opportunity they had to chase over 300 was against England, and New Zealand were bowled out for under 200. They also crashed to a sub-200 score against Australia and when batting first, their highest was 291/8 against West Indies.

The dearth of tall totals is the fault of a line-up that has been overly dependant on two big names. Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor have scored 44% of New Zealand’s total runs in the eight matches they’ve played, and if New Zealand are going to beat India, they will need contributions from many others. Martin Guptill and one of the batsmen in the middle-order have to ease the burden on New Zealand’s main men, because if they can get enough together to score over 300, India could be on the backfoot.

While India have posted over 300 four times, they have not successfully chased that many once at this competition. England set them 338 and India came close, but were eventually 31 runs too far.

Taking all of the above into account, New Zealand’s best chance is to bat first, bat big, hit Sharma with a bit of Boult, burrow through India’s middle-order and book a spot at Sundays’ final at Lord’s. But that is a lot of things that need to go exactly right for New Zealand and it’s difficult to see how that can happen given that momentum has swung away from them.

New Zealand have not won a match in two weeks at this tournament. They snuck into the final four because of their early dominance, which ensured their net run-rate was higher than Pakistan’s, and they are the team the other three most wanted to play in the final four. There are very few people that expect them to go any further and probably fewer who expect them to get rid of Rohit, who could run away with man of the tournament accolades. But if New Zealand could choose only one tag to pin themselves going into their most important game of the last four years, it would probably be underdogs, whose bite has so often proved much more dangerous than their bark.

South Africa vs Australia: World Cup Over Yet …

In Faf du Plessis’ perfect world, South Africa would have had a full-fit pace attack from the start of the World Cup to the end, Hashim Amla would have been in form, and the match against Australia at Old Trafford would have been “almost like a quarterfinal,” with South Africa ending up on the right side of history.

“But we don’t live in a perfect world,” the South African captain lamented, not for the first time in the last six weeks.

In reality’s imperfect world, South Africa have been making up numbers for the last 10 days, with a bowling attack that has routinely carried a wounded member, a line-up sans a centurion and absolutely nothing to play for in Manchester. Even the most perfect performance will not change the imperfection of South Africa’s tournament or the harsh realities they will face when they return home, starting with whether all of them will return home.

As (another) Brexit deadline looms, the clock is clicking on those who want to sign Kolpak deals and the expectation is that South Africa could face another exodus. Some of them might come from this squad; others from the many back home chasing pound salaries and a change of lifestyle that neither the ICC nor Cricket South Africa can stop.

Image Credit: Getty Images.

In a perfect world, du Plessis reminded, cricketers from the small seven would be paid as much as those from the Big Three. “If that changes, it will be amazing for the rest of the world, but I think it’s a long, long way from happening,” du Plessis said.

Until then, South African cricketers will continue to be divided into three groups. Those who make their names in red-ball cricket and sign Kolpak deals, those who become white-ball specialists and join the travelling circus of leagues and those who stay. The problem is that the numbers of the first two groups have increased quicker than the number in the last group who are of the same quality, causing South African cricket to suffer.

This World Cup has highlighted that, with what-ifs at almost every turn, from Kyle Abbott and Rilee Rossouw in Hampshire to AB de Villiers on the other end of a late-night phone call. There’s no point wondering what difference if any, that trio might have made, but there is a point in ensuring others don’t follow their path, South Africa need to hold on to the likes of Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar and anyone else who has come up on county radar.

That includes the coach. Ottis Gibson came from the English changeroom and there is a strong suggestion that he could return there, or close to there. Gibson’s contract runs until the end of September and its renewal was initially dependent on South Africa winning the World Cup, and then on reaching the final. Now it is unsure whether Gibson will be retained beyond the end of this tournament, despite du Plessis throwing his weight behind Gibson to take the team to the T20 World Cup.

Ottis Gibson (Credit: ICC/Twitter)

“I would really want Ottis to stay on There’s a T20 World Cup next year in October and November in Australia and both of us planned to be there for that and this World Cup because they are close together. That’s still how I see it,” du Plessis said.

In that statement, du Plessis has all but confirmed that he will not retire, at least not completely, at the end of this tournament. Despite not wanting to think about the future until this World Cup is over, du Plessis indicated he would consider his own role soon. “It will be a case of taking some time off and reflecting what does the future look like for me as well, what’s my purpose going forward. Is it still playing all three formats for South Africa?”

With the next fifty-over World Cup four years away, it makes sense to blood a new leader in that format so du Plessis could find himself talking the team to the T20 World Cup and starting off their Test Championship. He can’t be blamed if he only wants to do that with a coach of his choice but CSA can’t be blamed if they’ve decided Gibson needs to go. Under him, South Africa has been humbled to their worst World Cup showing, which may not inspire confidence for another major tournament.

And Gibson would do well to remember that his employers have been ruthless in the past. It was here, in a stairwell in Manchester, that Russell Domingo told the media he felt he was standing in the departure lounge after South Africa lost a Test series to England 3-1. Domingo was replaced by Gibson immediately after. It may be here that Gibson is made to experience the same and forced to say goodbye along with Imran Tahir and JP Duminy, who have both announced their ODI retirements, despite it being an imperfect way for either of them to go.

Duminy leaves with 199 ODI caps and a legacy that he has admitted is not marked in runs. Tahir finishes as the most successful spinner in South Africa’s fifty-over history and their eighth-most successful ODI bowler. Neither will get the trophy they hoped for.

(Twitter/@ICC)

In a perfect world, South Africa would have sent off two of their longest-serving players with a performance they could have been proud of, capped off with a match that matters against the opposition they both have so much history against. Tahir made his Test debut against Australia; Duminy made his name against them, and South Africa made history against them. They are the only team to have beaten Australia 5-nil in a bilateral ODI series and the team against whom Australia made the mistakes that forced them to rethink their culture. After sandpaper-gate, Australia came back stronger.

And South Africa? They’ve been through a reversal of fortune few would have imagined. Injuries have added up but the overall strength of South African cricket appears in decline and the result of this match at Old Trafford will not change that. The only thing it could possibly do is give South Africa a glimmer of hope to carry home, where they will come face to face with their imperfect cricketing landscape.

ICC World Cup 2019 | From Sparkling to Falteri…

Forget the silhouetted stallions stalking cricket’s most coveted cup, it turns out New Zealand put the cart before the horse at this tournament by starting with five straight wins and ending their group stage with three successive defeats. They will more than likely still qualify for the final four but will enter as underdogs and their change in species speaks to a campaign that has unravelled when it matters most.

So what’s gone wrong?

The short answer is batting. The long answer is everything besides Kane Williamson, though if you look hard enough you will find scraps of criticism over conservative captaincy, especially as New Zealand have lacked the innovative impetus they developed under Brendon McCullum. They’ve proceeded almost pedestrian-like against obviously weaker opposition and been swallowed whole by the big boys, showing little of the spunk of 2015 when they rightly claimed to be having the time of the lives.

This time, New Zealand have not captured hearts and minds, in the same way, perhaps understandably so given the distance from home and the passing of the “darlings,” tag to Bangladesh, perhaps not, given their reputation for magicking wins from nothing under McCullum. Williamson does not have McCullum’s charisma but his dry humour and genuine manner commands deep respect. There’s not a player around who doesn’t have a good word to say about Williamson, least of all those in his own camp. On the eve of the England match, Ross Taylor defended Williamson as “world-class,” and said the rest of the line-up could help their skipper out by scoring some runs.

So far, Taylor is the only batsman who has consistently walked his own talk. He was involved in match-winning partnerships with Williamson in three of New Zealand’s four victories, against Bangladesh, Afghanistan and West Indies. He is also the only New Zealand batsman other than Williamson in the top 20 at this event. England have six batsmen on that list, Australia has three and though India also only have two, one of them is Rohit Sharma, who has double the number of centuries as anyone else.

The rest of New Zealand’s batting simply hasn’t shown up often enough. Colin de Grandhomme helped Williamson steer New Zealand home against South Africa and Jimmy Neesham had one fighting knock against Pakistan but big partnerships have been scarce.

The only stand of significance that did not involve Williamson or Taylor was the unbroken 137 between Martin Guptill and Colin Munro in their opener against Sri Lanka. But the opening partnership has only made it into double-digits twice since then, even after Colin Munro was dropped for Henry Nicholls, and the problem is not purely on the other end of Martin Guptill. The senior opener’s 73* against Sri Lanka is now a distant memory against two ducks and two single-figure scores and needs to do more than that to ease the burden on Williamson and Taylor.

Perhaps the best thing that happened to New Zealand in their defeat was that Tom Latham brought up his highest score of the World Cup to date and his first of more than 14 runs. New Zealand’s middle-order was identified early on, by Lungi Ngidi, as their weak spot, and though South Africa don’t have much to say for themselves at this event, they were right in that department. They were the first to exploit that and had New Zealand 80 for 4 in chase of 242. Other oppositions have taken that further. New Zealand were 83 for 5 against Pakistan and 69 for 4 against England and have shown themselves to have too much of a soft underbelly.

That said, New Zealand’s attack has been one of the highlights of the tournament with Trent Boult and Colin de Grandhomme maintaining economy rates of under 4.70 runs an over, Matt Henry going at under five and Lockie Ferguson snarling underneath the best moustache of the competition to land among its top three wicket-takers. More’s the pity that he was was ruled out of the England match with a hamstring strain, denying him the opportunity to go head-to-head with the other man on 17 scalps, Jofra Archer but providing New Zealand with the opportunity to try and force history into repeating itself.

In Ferguson’s injury-enforced absence, Tim Southee, who has not bowled competitively in almost five weeks since the warm-up matches because of a calf injury made the XI, hoping to repeat his heroics of four years ago or come close. In 2015, Southee’s 7 for 33 scythed through England, who were bowled out for 123. New Zealand cantered to victory in 12.2 overs.

But that was the time of their lives, on home turf, when it seemed winning would come as a result of simply having fun. Now, it’s completely different.

The World Cup field has got smaller in size but the big three seem to have only got bigger. India, Australia and even England (despite losing to Pakistan and Sri Lanka) can all get on their high horses about the standard of cricket they have played at this tournament. They have dominated the field to the point where the idea of the top team going straight through the final and a playoff between the second and third-placed team seems an appealing way to end a World Cup that has been too predictable for most people’s liking.

But someone has to play in the semi-finals and it’s hardly surprising that someone is New Zealand. They’ve been in seven of 11 and all of the last three tournament semi-finals. Just when it seemed they would be forever condemned to the final four, in 2015, they progressed to their first final and then the occasion overawed them.

In the four years since New Zealand have matured from the wide-eyed runners-up to a team known for being witty (remember the jokes about a quiz night after the week which included the India washout?) and wily under Williamson. It has got to the point where they will need more than that to win and they only have a week to wangle a way.

ICC World Cup 2019 | Pretorius Gives South Afr…

It’s only a month late but South Africa have finally arrived, with nothing to lose and nothing to gain, at this World Cup. Naturally, they went on to do as South Africa does best. They swept aside a Sri Lankan side that looked like they needed to be reminded they were still in with a chance of qualifying for the semi-finals and played like a team that wasn’t even trying to get there. But for what?

Pride will be the most common answer but how much self-worth can be squeezed out of winning when it’s too late, against opponents who, for the most part, couldn’t even be bothered to compete? Finding form may be another reason but how much can Hashim Amla really hold on to this free-flowing knock when he will only really be needed to score runs three months from now, in India?

At least we know he’s still got it, though who knows for how long, and at least we know South Africa still have it, albeit in a situation with so little pressure that if the Riverside Ground was an airplane cabin, the oxygen masks would have dropped down.

This win tells us nothing about the South African ODI team’s ability that we didn’t know before – especially since they beat Sri Lanka 5-nil in a home series earlier this year – but it may tell us something about their personnel, in particular, one player.

Dwaine Pretorius has not played since the opening match against England but his performance did not suggest he’d spent four weeks on the bench. He was accurate and picked up 3/25 in 10 overs, bowling at 130kph with consistency as his greatest asset. Perhaps because Pretorius is unspectacular, the selection in this tournament has been harsh on him. Despite being part of the original XV member squad, Pretorius was left out of six of the eight matches in favour of Chris Morris, a late call-up who could likely not be here if Anrich Nortje’s hand had not broke in the nets.

But look at Morris’ numbers and its easy to see why South Africa went with him. He is their most successful bowler of the competition, with 12 wickets at 23.16 and has performed with the passion and intensity that his peers have lacked. The question then is whether South Africa could have made room for both Pretorius and Morris in the XI? Yes, but only if they were willing to leave out one of Kagiso Rabada or Lungi Ngidi, something they would be loathed to do.

Don’t jump to conclusions about transformation because that’s not why Rabada and Ngidi are here. On reputation, the pair would be in most teams’ starting XI and that example alone tells the story of South Africa’s flopped campaign: too many selections were made on sentiment.

Amla despite his runs today, Duminy and even Dale Steyn were included because they are the names South Africans trust. On the other hand, Rassie van der Dussen, was chosen by sheer weight of runs, first in the Mzansi Super League and then in the home summer, where he scored four centuries in his first eight matches. He has South Africa’s highest average at this tournament which speaks to the success of picking players on form.

Whether South Africa had enough players going through a purple patch is another consideration, and the reality is that they didn’t. But they had to put 15 players on a flight to Heathrow, so they did, not expecting it would get this flat.

Despite dominating Sri Lanka, despite Amla’s runs, despite a second century-stand in a tournament that has been blighted by batting collapses, everything at Chester-le-Street felt fairly pedestrian. For that, Sri Lanka also has to take some blame.

They arrived at the game still very much in this World Cup. They batted as though they couldn’t wait to get out. When their cavalier shots weren’t gifting South Africa catches, they were chopping them on to their stumps. The score they ended on – 203 – was always unlikely to be enough, even though they defended 232 against England last week.

But that was England, who care very deeply about their results, so much that they have now accused critics of wanting them to fail, and have a habit of tripping over their own feet. This was South Africa, whose caring stopped when they set up camp in du Plessis’ “negative town,” 10 days ago and lost to New Zealand and who had tripped, staggered and fallen five times in this tournament already.

South Africa may have been there for the taking but Sri Lanka were not up to receiving. To do that, they had to get more than just 200 and they had to do more than just take one early wicket. Someone had to take on South Africa’s meandering attack (bar Pretorius) and someone had to slice through their fragile batting. That no-one could suggests Sri Lanka are probably not top four contenders anyway but they should still be happier with the way their tournament turned out than South Africa, who arrived too late. Way, way too late for it to matter.

They will leave late too. Their next match the final group stage game against the already qualified Australia, once the ultimate opposition but now just the stewards guiding South Africa to the departure lounge. There’s eight to go before that, eight days as a heat wave passes through Europe, eight days to watch other teams tussle over the place South Africa wished they could occupy and eight days that will feel like a lifetime.

Moral of the story: when you arrive too late, sometimes you have to wait to leave.

ICC World Cup 2019 | Apologetic Proteas Look t…

Chester-le-Street: The skies have lightened but the mood in the South African camp remains dim as not even the sunshine after a grey June can change that this will remain their worst performance in World Cup history.

Even if they win their last two matches, South Africa will return home with a victory percentage of 33, worse than the 50% in 2003 – the only other time they have not made the knock-outs. They know it has never been worse than this. South Africa have used words like embarrassed – as Faf du Plessis did after their loss to Pakistan – and ashamed – as JP Duminy did ahead of their match against Sri Lanka and now they have even apologised for their performances.

Duminy was the first player to say sorry when he fronted up to the media at Chester-le-Street, after weeks behind the scenes in what is his swan song. Even before the tournament kicked off, Duminy announced it would be his last. Some (including this writer) questioned whether the sentiment that came with that merited selection, given his record and that fact that he was injured in the lead-up. Others would have breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that the only thing Duminy did consistently was flatter to deceive. And others still, would have hoped that the goodbye would spur Duminy on to some form of greatness.

In the end, he was dropped after three matches, having reached double-figures only once, and will be recalled because of a groin injury to David Miller. Between them, the pair have scored 192 runs in seven innings, less than 23 other players have scored on their own at this tournament, and therein lies South Africa’s biggest challenge as they go forward: from the ashes of this stubbed out campaign, they need to find players who can set the international stage alight.

Duminy is no longer one of them, and he is going on his own terms. Others may have to be pushed. Miller, despite his age and his ability, should have to prove himself at a lower level again before he can be reconsidered. Hashim Amla, much as it is difficult to write and read and digest because of the aura around him, probably has to go. And there might even be questions about Faf du Plessis, who has now let slip that he is not nearly in control as his cool exterior suggests. He could not stop players from burning out at the IPL (and perhaps he shouldn’t be able to given free agency and all that) and he cannot control the things happening outside of what Duminy called the players “bubble,” which, to be frank, should now have burst.

While professional sportsmen need to learn to operate in a space that shuts out external noise, if South Africa are still doing, they have become tone deaf to the issues they need to address but that is a topic for another piece.

Instead, it suffices to say that someone can send the shrill sound of reality through space with a century in the next two matches. If that somebody is Quinton de Kock or Aiden Markram or Rassie van der Dussen, all the better because that is where South Africa’s future lies. Their blueprint must revolve around these three, Reeza Hendricks could come into the conversation but then someone domestically (maybe Temba Bavuma, for example) needs to stand up and make the middle-order spot their own.

At the other end, South Africa’s attack – all of them – need to be better managed and work on a plan that will see them fully fit when they are most needed. Rabada, who has already had the luxury of a longer-term national contract than many of his peers, has to be spoken to about priorities. We can all understand that the money he makes at the IPL cannot be replicated at home, even fractionally, but then the number of balls he bowls at home needs to be reduced. There may be Tests he needs to sit out in years when a limited-overs tournament is more important and there may be white-ball matches he misses when the red-ball demands are greater.

Lungi Ngidi’s conditioning has been under scrutiny, as has Tabraiz Shamsi’s waistline and both appear to be issues that can be solved by a good trainer but what South Africa will struggle with most is how to cope with the loss of Imran Tahir. The legspinner, like Duminy, will play his last at this World Cup and it is to him that the rest should be the sorriest.

Tahir has given tirelessly of himself since his debut in 2011, he cares deeply about what he does, he has become the lungs of the team on the field and it seems like he contributes a large amount of the heart and brains off it. He will bow out with respect, but nothing else. No medal. No major trophy. Nothing to really show for the effort he put in. The best South Africa can do is make sure they use him in the future, something they have been particularly poor in doing with other former players.

The scouts are already out to find the next coach from among those who have been close to the national side before because one thing that seems certain is that the current coach, Ottis Gibson, will not continue. Mark Boucher and Ashwell Prince are the two names that crop up most often because they are the two who are currently involved with South African franchises, but the search may extend. Jacques Kallis has experience at KKR, Nicky Boje is a former franchise coach, and Makhaya Ntini has been in charge in Zimbabwe.

A closer look at all those names will also reveal reasons why they may not be considered. Boucher, Prince and Kallis are all relatively new in their jobs, Boje has moved overseas, Ntini was unsuccessful. But South Africa may not have too many choices. With economics dictating who they can afford to hire and politics playing a role in who may want to be hired, they could find themselves knocking on the same old doors – Russell Domingo, Graham Ford, Ray Jennings – again and that would not necessarily bring any drastically different results.

That’s why there’s very little light on the horizon. Even as a glorious summer awaits the northern hemisphere, South Africa return home to winter, to questions they have no answers to and potentially, to some of the darkest days in their cricketing history.

ICC World Cup 2019: Rabada Biggest of Many Dis…

London: Jofra Archer for England. Mitchell Starc for Australia. Mohammad Amir for Pakistan. Lockie Ferguson for New Zealand. Jasprit Bumrah for India. Lasith Malinga for Sri Lanka. Sheldon Cottrell for West Indies. Mohammed Saifuddin for Bangladesh. Who for South Africa?

The answer should be Kagiso Rabada.

He was supposed to lead their attack. But the much-vaunted quick has looked a shadow of the lean, mean, speed machine who stormed onto the scene in the last few years. Here, he has barely made his presence felt, let alone make a proper impression on this World Cup.

Rabada sits 25th on the tournament wicket-takers’ list, behind the entire South African frontline attack, with six sticks at a bloated average of 50.83. His economy rate of 5.25 is decent but it only indicates that batsmen have been careful against him, not that he has actually posed a threat.

Amir leapt to the top of the bowling charts in this match with his dismissal of Faf du Plessis, which signaled the end of any chance South Africa might have had of successfully chasing 309. With 15 scalps, Amir now has the same number of wickets as Archer and Starc. Hot on their tail is Ferguson with 14, followed by Mark Wood (12) and Pat Cummins (11). South Africa’s leading bowler is Imran Tahir, with 10 wickets, a nod to the value of experience and importance of leg-spin but an indictment on a team who came into this competition boasting of having a pace battery that could defend anything. They can barely attack, let alone defend.

In the opening overs, South Africa have looked particularly poor and they have been generous to the opposition openers. Some of that comes down to the inexperience of the person sharing the new ball with Rabada – Lungi Ngidi, who has lamented that his wickets have only come later on when he has learned to adjust his lines, Chris Morris, for whom there are still question marks hanging over his consistency and Beuran Hendricks, who should not be judged on anything because he has only just got here – and some of it is because of Rabada’s inability to be effective upfront.

Apart from his opening spell against India, which was well-directed and brought early reward, Rabada has failed to make early breakthroughs. But unlike his team-mates, Rabada has been around long enough to do better.

His career is 72 ODIs old and he has played everywhere and everyone from Australia to Bangladesh. He should have been able to show that knowledge in this tournament, especially as he has done on a big stage before. Since he took 6 for 25 in the under-19 World Cup in 2014, Rabada has been seen as the man to take South Africa forward and until now, he has lived up to the billing. He is already their eighth highest Test wicket-taker and ninth highest ODI bowler. A dip in form shows he is only human but we don’t actually want to believe superstar sportsmen are, do we?

It only stings more that the dip is relatively recent and comes after peak performances for someone else. Two months ago, Rabada seemed in the form of his life, leading the IPL table with 25 scalps in 12 matches at an average of 14.72 before being forced out of the tournament with a back niggle. And that’s where these World Cup showings stem from.

Although Rabada was declared fully fit for the World Cup and played in the opener, you would be forgiven for suspecting there may be something he hasn’t quite shaken off. Equally, you might be wondering whether Rabada’s best efforts at the IPL have come at the expense of his country and if he should be managed better in future. Then, that sends us down a rabbit hole of questions about franchise T20 verses the international game and about the lure of money versus the love of the badge.

Rabada is the second player at this tournament after Quinton de Kock to put the IPL on a level with, if not above international cricket, even though it has since emerged that South Africa would have preferred him not to go. Faf du Plessis revealed that there were attempts to keep Rabada at home which failed and then further attempts to get him back halfway through which also failed and then eventually he returned injured, so the plan failed. As a result, Rabada was “not fresh,” in his captain’s words and is down on pace. And as a result, South Africa, overall, are struggling.

Champion teams need champions bowlers, particularly champion opening bowlers. They need one man who sets the tone, who swallows fire, who sweats bullets, who stares the opposition batsmen down, who snarls at them and snuffs them out. They need someone scary and skillful. South Africa got used to that being Dale Steyn but now, it needs to be Rabada, who has got to the point where placing extra responsibility on him is not unfair but expected.

Du Plessis called this the first major stumbling block of Rabada’s career, an opportunity to take stock and get better and most importantly, a chance to get his confidence back. The World Cup is over for South Africa, but Rabada could play in another two. It’s too early to think about 2023 but, if they are to have a chance, it has to be Rabada for South Africa then.