There was a look of resignation on the faces of the South African players after their ICC World Cup 2019 match against West Indies at Southampton was abandoned with them struggling at 29-2. South Africa now has just 1 point in 4 games in the tournament, having lost their first three matches to England, Bangladesh, and India.
They have looked like a team out of place and lacking in confidence so far. Which is somewhat unusual as South Africa is known to produce their best in the World Cups, even though they haven’t won the trophy yet and have been extremely unfortunate. They put on a stellar show in the 1992 World Cup in Australia and had it not been for a bizarre rain rule; they might have been in the finals. They topped the league stage of their group in the 1996 World Cup in Asia and were beaten in the Quarter-Finals by the West Indies. The 1999 World Cup was their best show where they reached the semi-finals with great style but ended up tying the game against Australia which lost them a spot in the finals.
The 2007 and 2011 editions were also good for South Africa, but it was 2015 where they again showed their class and had reached the semi-final stage only to be knocked out by New Zealand in a hard-fought game.
But things are looking rather grim for South Africa in the ongoing World Cup in England. Captain Faf Du Plessis has tried hard but hasn’t got support from his players who have looked oddly jittery out in the middle. Their batting has been insipid, their bowling has been useful only in patches, and their fielding to hasn’t been the greatest. Injuries to crucial bowlers like Dale Steyn and Lungi Ngidi has also badly messed up their plans.
So far in the tournament, only three batsmen have scored more than 100 runs for South Africa – captain Faf du Plessis (105 runs), Rassie van der Dussen (113 runs) and Quinton de Kock (118 runs) – and even they haven’t looked to be the sharpest. The others like David Miller, Hashim Amla, Aiden Markram, and JP Duminy have all been rather poor so far, which has made things very difficult for South Africa.
In the bowling department, it is the young Kasigo Rabada who is doing the bulk of the work, but even he has been off-color with only four wickets to his name. With Dale Steyn and Ngidi unavailable, the burden has fallen on all-rounder Chris Morris and Andile Phehlukwayo. Leg-spinner Imran Tahir too would have to do a lot better if South Africa hopes to make an impact in the remaining games.
With five more games remaining, South Africa still has a mathematical chance of making it to the semis if they win 4 out of those. They are likely to win their matches against Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. But the likes of Pakistan, Australia, and New Zealand would be tight to beat given their present condition.
If South Africa doesn’t pull up its socks soon and start delivering the goods, they will be staring at their worst World Cup performance ever.