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Du Plessis rues top-order meltdown

Another 15 or 20 runs, and South Africa would not have been left to depend on results elsewhere, says captain.

26 March 2016 18:07

It’s a familiar tale for South Africa. Enter an ICC event with a unit that looks formidable, without any glaring weakness and with more than a few aces. Exit earlier than people have anticipated. Continue the long wait to add silverware to the only title they have won, the ICC Knockout in 1998.

On Friday (March 25) at the VCA Stadium in Nagpur, South Africa fought valiantly to defend a sub-par 122 for 8, but couldn’t stop West Indies and their deep batting line-up from crossing the line with two balls and three wickets in hand. The result meant that South Africa would need to depend on Sri Lanka beating England, and then beat Sri Lanka themselves, to have any hope of progressing to the semifinals of the ICC World Twenty20 2016.

While Faf du Plessis, the captain, expressed hope that “someone looks after us” and that the stars would align to keep their hopes alive, he was left particularly disappointed with the manner of the top order’s capitulation against West Indies. The poor start meant South Africa were playing catch up from 46 for 4 in the eighth over, having lost Hashim Amla, du Plessis, Rilee Rossouw and AB de Villiers.

“Those decisions you make when you’re batting, we didn’t make them tonight," rued the South Africa captain. "The run-out (Amla), caught at mid-off (du Plessis), and Rilee… our first three wickets for me were all soft wickets. AB’s wicket was also a soft wicket.

“They didn’t bowl us out tonight, we were put in situations where we needed to be smarter and we weren’t. If you don’t do those things, you’re not going to bat as well as you can. We went into this game thinking that West Indies is a power-hitting team and we rely on being smart. If we had 10 or 15 runs more, I think we could have won the game. They don’t rely on touch, on getting ones and twos whereas this ground is spot on for that. That’s where we lost the game.”

Du Plessis had spoken on the eve of the match of how the batsmen had made smart decisions and reassessed conditions quickly, and the failure to do that on a pitch that was sluggish with the ball not coming on, was galling. Save Quinton de Kock, who made 47 off 46 and stayed till the 16th over, none of the others in the top six crossed ten.

“The batting today was the difference between us winning and losing," he said. "We needed to get to 130-135 to have a par score. That’s the batting unit’s problem. I thought we were very frantic there, up front. Obviously, you never want to start your innings with a run-out. That just puts you back, puts everything in a bit of a negative mode, because you’re giving the opposition a wicket. But to lose three or four wickets so quickly broke our momentum in the innings, and that was the difference between us getting to 140. The guys batted beautifully in the middle. David Wiese, once again as a guy that’s coming in today, had a great game, and I can’t fault the bowlers today.

“There’s been a lot of pressure and a lot of stuff said about our bowling unit over the last two weeks or so, but they fought really hard today,” went on du Plessis, referring to the criticism of the bowling unit for leaking runs on flat tracks against England and Afghanistan. “Especially in a big game like today, you want your big players to stand up, and myself, Hashim and AB, one of us needed to anchor the innings and be there.

Quinton played an amazing innings, a mature innings, that’s something he hasn’t done a lot. Normally, he plays his aggressive game and he’s very free. Today the shoe was on the other foot and he adapted brilliantly. And he showed the rest of the batting unit what it is like to adapt on that wicket.”

The difference between de Kock and the rest was that he judged the pace of the wicket perfectly, and didn’t try to manufacture power shots that weren’t possible. The only time he did try something outrageous in an effort to amp up the run-rate, he fell. South Africa would still have been in with a shot at defending their total, when Imran Tahir got two wickets and gave up only one run in the 17th over. David Wiese then gave up only three runs to leave West Indies needing 20 off the last two overs.

However, luck went the way of the men from the Caribbean. Marlon Samuels – already the beneficiary of a dropped catch courtesy Tahir off his own bowling – got a thick edge to third man for four, and a bottom edge that went past stumps and ‘keeper into the fence.

“I knew in my mind that pace off was the key," explained du Plessis of the thought process behind bowling out Tahir and Wiese, and keeping Morris and Kagiso Rabada for the last two overs. "I had to play the Imran card and it worked brilliantly. I was planning on keeping him for the death but the game was already too far by then and I needed him to bring it back for me, which he did brilliantly.

“And then the second-last over, it went for two boundaries early doors with Marlon hitting one over third man and bottom-edging one to third man. When you see a ball go to third man like that, you just think, ‘Oh my word, it’s not meant to be for us today’. I do think we could still have won it, we brought ourselves back into the game brilliantly. One or two mistakes, but tonight definitely isn’t on the bowling. It’s 15 runs that the batters should have got more.”

‘It’s not meant to be for us today’ – du Plessis might well have been speaking of every South African campaign at ICC world events.