An opportunity to grapple with 'that issue'
Victory in Paarl and Kimberley was much needed for the New Zealand cricket side as the tour of South Africa had been incredibly tough and unforgiving up to that point. For a month the Black Caps have been under the cosh, having arrived as a unit with lots of baggage due to the captaincy saga.
It did not help that a letter that Shane Bond, the bowling coach, wrote to the New Cricket Board on the issue was leaked to the press long after the problem had somewhat been dealt with. The timing was all wrong as it meant a wound was reopened right at the start of the limited-overs matches.
The gloss must not be taken off the achievement of the Kiwis who have won a series on South African soil for the first time; congratulations sure are in order as it was some feat. For the Black Caps to raise themselves and keep the belief that victory was possible would have needed great mental strength. They believed and they managed but it must also be said that they had quite a bit of help from the Proteas who failed to put their gameplans together.
Whilst some will go on about which players were missing from South Africa’s line-up, it is important to note that there is not a single selection panel that picks a side with thoughts of losing envisaged. The combinations put onto the field by the Proteas' management are expected to get the job done no matter how inexperienced they might be.
The inexperience of South Africa’s middle order contributed greatly to the loss of the second ODI in Kimberley and subsequently the series to New Zealand and the absence of AB de Villiers and also Hashim Amla was evident. That is not to say that if the two star batsmen had played, South Africa would have won, as the first ODI was lost with both playing. It was incredible how palpable the tension and seeming panic got as South Africa went from a comfortable position to clearly having lost their way in Kimberley.
The pandemonium and seeming panic when the pressure really was all on the opposition demonstrated a lack of clear thinking and uncertainty at a critical time. The sequence of events was astounding! There are many who have seen that sort of thing play out before; the big difference was that this was no knock-out match in a big tournament – it happened on the Proteas’ own turf where they have long been so formidable. While some may view this as a huge worry, it would be wise to view the situation as a real opportunity to address the issue.
In times past when this has happened in ICC tournaments, it has meant the end of the road and therefore preparations to return home and wait for another chance to try again. It is the beginning of the season and also the start of a journey to the ICC Champions Trophy in the middle of the year. The bigger picture is the ICC Cricket World Cup that is even further away but blocks built now would go a long way to getting onto the right track.
It is said that a lot is learnt in defeat but this time around it is not a new lesson. It is an old and recurring one. The question really is how to get past it?? To mark it down as a blip on the radar would not be adequate at all or in the least bit helpful to the side. The hope will be that the feeling of disappointment was articulated into speech and meaningful communication in the South African change room in Kimberley.
Only the team will know and be clear on whether the problem is dealt with or not.