They flattered to deceive. And how disappointed they left fans in the end!
Disappointing could be an understatement given the gap between promise and delivery from both South Africa and the West Indies, as they failed to secure a last four finish in the ongoing World Cup. Both might still be hoping for a miracle of mathematics to get there but their journey is over for all practical purposes. For those not in the loop, the defeat at the hands of New Zealand sealed the fate of Windies and Pakistan’s thumping victory over the Proteas ensured the elimination of the latter. Meanwhile, underrated teams such as Bangladesh and Pakistan have kept their World Cup hope alive through dogged combativeness.
Individual talent matters zilch in a team game if collective effort collapses. South Africa, with a rich reservoir of talent, failed to rise to the occasion when it mattered. There were flashes of brilliance but hardly a coordinated group effort to make the brilliance count. You cannot get better players than Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi and Chris Morris in one unit. They would walk into any national team on individual merit. However, what matters is whether they gel as a team to fend off challenges. From day one, they didn’t.
Hashim had a poor World Cup, but it should have been factored that in. Even the greatest of players can have a lack lustre run. They simply did not have a plan B. There was none to take over his role as an inning-builder and anchor. Worse, they lacked a player in the middle order to steady the inning, a role MS Dhoni has been playing for India successfully. Dale Steyn’s injury was a setback but others in the reserve were no green horns in international cricket. In any case, South Africa has managed for long without the injury-prone Steyn spearheading their bowling attack. It was just the inability to muster the resources to a productive conclusion.
Similar is the case with the big guys from the Caribbean. After long, the team appeared like the Windies of the old. Packed with impact players and with a combative approach, it was expected to shock and awe opponents. The good old intimidation tactic was back, so was the attitude that one usually associates with players from this bunch of island nations. But they imploded rather quickly. Despite having mighty batters, they failed to chase or set targets. The pace attack failed to impress the opposition with their aggressiveness.
Chris Gayle turned up a patchy performance. Other leading batsmen were ho-hum at best. Senior pro Andre Russel was still playing Indian Premier League in the World Cup, a 50-50 overs contest. The rash shots and uncontrolled temperament was all too evident as he faced bowlers in different situations. Skipper Jason Holder was the only person who exuded sanity in the entire team, both while bowling and batting. That, obviously, was not good enough to hold things together in crunch situations.
Like the case with South Africa, the team was nowhere in evidence, only isolated individual performances of note. Match individual players from both with players from Bangladesh. The latter, barring the bright Shakib al Hasan, do not quite measure up in terms of reputation and talent. Yet as a team, they have so far outshone both. The unit reflects compactness and composure that is essential on the big stage. Just look at the 300-plus scores they have chased down or put on board after batting first, and the discipline in their bowling. It is amply evident that they have overcome limitations of talent with collective effort.
That is what good teams are all about. Individual talent remains a force multiplier but not the whole game. Even in the highly unpredictable T20 cricket, where the accent is heavily on individual impact performances, it’s team work that courts success. The consistent performance of Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians is a case in point.
All semi-final prospects in this version of the World Cup have displayed great team work. South Africa and West Indies must take note if they want to be true contenders in global events.