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Down and out, SA should use World Cup to re-evaluate

London, Tuesday @PeopleSport11

South Africa look likely to soon have to write off this World Cup as a failure in terms of winning a trophy, but in years to come they could hold up the tournament as the place where they finally looked in the mirror.

In the gathering gloom of the Rose Bowl in Southampton on Monday, three South African supporters took a celebratory trundle around the concourse. They held their flag high. They squared their shoulders as best they could after a day of beer and banter. They chanted: “We’re on the board! We’re on the board! We’re on the board!”

Truth be told, the gloom had been gathering since 11:08 am local time, when the rain drove the players from the field. There went Quinton de Kock, who had stood and delivered for his 17 not out, and Faf du Plessis, who had faced seven deliveries without being hit on what he called “the dodgy finger, the crooked one” — the index finger on his right hand — and Sheldon Cottrell, who had rattled the cages of those who faced him for his 2/18.

Jason Holder had won the toss and shoved South Africa in to bat in seaming conditions, and after 45 deliveries they had stumbled to 29/2.

More than five hours of nothingness later, save for much hard work by the groundstaff and several ceremonial processions by the umpires, the pretence was abandoned and everyone went home.

The points, of course, were shared. Which is better than what South Africa have managed in their three other matches — hence the flag-waving fans’ happiness.                                         – AFP

But there was a glazed resignation in their eyes, and it wasn’t just about the beer they had consumed. They knew even before Monday’s match that their team would struggle to win their remaining six games on the bounce to retain a better than outside chance of reaching the semi-finals. Now one of those opportunities had been snuffed out by the weather, not that South Africa had looked in any shape to beat West Indies.

Could they get there with five wins from their last five games? Theoretically, but it’s a significantly longer shot than it was before Monday’s match.

And whether South Africa, in their current funk of low confidence, could reel off five victories without reply is not at all certain.

They should beat Afghanistan in Cardiff on Saturday, and Sri Lanka, who they play at Chester-le-Street in their penultimate league match on 28 June. But their other opponents — New Zealand, Pakistan and Australia — loom like muggers in a dark alley. And another thing: Rain is forecast for Cardiff on Saturday.

South Africa’s other trips to the World Cup, save for 1996, when they knew they would struggle in the subcontinent, have been fuelled by ambition and filled with hope. They have almost always arrived as contenders and been shocked into accepting the painful truth that they are not as good as they thought they were.

This World Cup has been different. They pitched up preaching that they weren’t as strong as previous sides who have gone once more unto the breach. Ain’t that the truth, as we have seen. But it was the right thing to do: look your shortcomings in the eye and play to your strengths. Problem is, they have played away from their strengths and discovered new weaknesses — mostly in a batting approach that has veered from reckless to tentative without settling for long between those poles.

Consequently, they have fallen short of their self-adjusted reality. They have missed their own target.

It’s a rude awakening for a team who struggles to think of itself as not among the better sides in the game, but has made an effort to do so nonetheless. An unsuccessful effort, as it turns out.

Now this. Their supporters are trying to tell themselves they should be happy about their side earning a point. That’s a new low, and it could well be that rock bottom hasn’t yet been hit.

So much could change about South Africa’s team in what promises to be a dramatic next few weeks.

They could be in the market for a new coach, what with Ottis Gibson being told by the board that nothing less than bringing home the trophy itself will allow him to keep his job. Du Plessis, Hashim Amla, and Dale Steyn could follow JP Duminy and Imran Tahir, who have already said they will retire after the tournament, into an unhappy sunset.

The players’ association is mounting legal action against the board for a proposed restructure of domestic cricket that, they say, will lead to the loss of scores of jobs. And all the while questions are swirling about when, exactly, AB de Villiers said he was willing to return to the international arena.

Kagiso Rabada, who is that rare thing in cricket, a player who actually thinks before he answers questions, spoke on Sunday of the unsettled status of the game in South Africa currently.

One day, his generation of South Africa’s players might look back on this World Cup as an important time of reflection and coming to terms with the way things are. Because only then can work on making things the way they should be.

A stage of this stature is hardly the place to embark on that project, but there is no pressure-free place to do so in the madness of international cricket. South Africa look likely to soon have to write off this World Cup as a failure in terms of winning a trophy, but in years to come they could hold up the tournament as the place where they finally looked in the mirror.

Everyone needs to do that, and there are times when everyone doesn’t like what they see. This is that time for South Africa. It isn’t pretty. The gloom is indeed gathering, and it will gather for a while yet. But, like those beer-blessed fans wandering uncertainly around the ground, flag aloft, eyes glazed over, could have told them, you need to get through the hangover before the sun will shine again.

In the Mombasa league, Bamburi Cement won 3-0 against Cube Movers, NIC Bank lost 2-0 to Sea Bulk Limited, Tradewinds Aviation Services won 3-0 against Aga Khan, CBA won 2-1 against Total Kenya and Maersk Group recovered to beat Vivo Energy 2-1.

In the Mombasa social league, Kuzemoto won 2-0 against Fayaz FC, Makupa Rangers lost 2-1 to Mombasa Hamlets while Island Sharks drew 1-1 with Grain Bulk Limited.

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