Poor decision-making is SA's problem
The South African tour of Sri Lanka started off in the worst possible fashion. A way under-par Proteas line-up was outplayed by a thoroughly professional Sri Lankan line-up. Can the reason for this one-sided contest simply be put down to the fact that South Africa haven't played since the Champions Trophy or do we read more into the sub-par performance from a squad that has been under fire for its indifferent form in one-day cricket?
The South African team did look very rusty. Is that an excuse in the harsh world of professional cricket today? Probably not. The inactivity was a mitigating factor but not the over-riding problem that faces a squad that is under-achieving in the one-day arena.
The big issue is not ability. There is lots of talent in the squad. Granted – perhaps not as much as at certain stages in the past, but more than enough to compete well at the highest level.
The major problem is the decision-making. This applies to tactical decision-making and also decision-making under pressure – both individually and collectively.
A classic case in point was the decision to bowl first during the first ODI. That decision was motivated solely by studying previous form at the venue where the match was played.
Sure enough, previous form indicated that teams chasing a total has been more successful at the venue than teams posting one, but history remains only a guide.The over-riding decision depends on what conditions are like on the day of the match.
It was a boiling hot day on Saturday and the pitch looked a good one to bat on. Why then surrender that advantage and allow the strong Sri Lankan batting combination first use of a flat pitch? It was always going to be better to bowl at night. Batting first and building a big total was the way to go, particularly in the first match of the series. Instead the Proteas put themselves under unnecessary pressure.
The second match of the series will be played at the same venue on Tuesday. Hopefully this time the Proteas' brains trust will assess conditions on the day and make an informed decision at the toss should they be fortunate enough to have the option again.
Opposition teams know that in ODI and T20 cricket, the Proteas have developed a tendency to select the wrong options in pressure situations. The game-plan against South Africa is a simple one. It is a case of building pressure through good basic discipline and then waiting for the South African players to make mistakes. The same scenario is unfortunately happening too often and has a predictable feel about it.
Hopefully Hashim Amla will be fit for the next clash. An in-form Amla will make a huge difference at the top of the order. However the Proteas should not be totally reliant on his skill set. AB de Villiers has stressed that in his view he has the best available players in the country at his disposal in the squad.
He is probably right. There is no doubt that the current group is capable of much better than the performance they displayed in the first match. They may not be world beaters but when they play to the best of their ability they can compete.
The low-profile new coaching team has a job on their hands to bring about intensity, passion and a better skill set during the remaining matches. If they achieve this the remaining matches should be a lot closer as far as the outcome is concerned.
As proud South Africans this is what we need to see. I hope this happens. The commentary box was a tough place to be on Saturday.