Chasing Proteas’ nemesis

CricketSouth Africa face battle to buck losing trend when fielding first

SATURDAY’S debacle against Pakistan in Auckland was the latest example of a worrying truth: South Africa have lost the art of chasing down targets. Their 2011 World Cup ended in shambolic fashion in the quarterfinal in Dhaka when they failed to reel in New Zealand’s mediocre 221.

That soft serve performance echoed around Eden Park on Saturday, when South Africa were dismissed 29 runs short of the 232 they needed to beat Pakistan.

South Africa’s sorry performance snared the attention of Graeme Smith, who wrote in his column on the International Cricket Council website: “One of the most glaring issues to come out of [the] loss was the continued struggle the Proteas have with regard to chasing.

“The only lesson that came from this batting rehearsal was that [SA] have a lot more work to do in very little time. Even with one pool game to go [against the United Arab Emirates in Wellington on Thursday] their attention would have shifted to the likely quarterfinal opponents of Sri Lanka or Australia, who would definitely have noted that their chasing travails continued.”

And that by a team who in five days at the tournament became the first side to post consecutive totals of at least 400 in one-day internationals.

South Africa batted first in those matches, against West Indies and Ireland, as they did in their opening game of the World Cup against Zimbabwe. AB de Villiers’ men won all of those matches.

Saturday’s defeat was South Africa’s second of the tournament. They suffered their first against India in Melbourne on February 22 – when they crashed and burned for 177 chasing 308 to win.

Which means South Africa have been victorious in all the matches in which they have batted first, and lost both times they have been asked to hunt down a target at the World Cup.

Overall, South Africa have won 167 ODIs batting first and 162 when they have fielded first. In fact, until the end of their involvement in the 2011 World Cup, they were a more successful team when they chased – earning 147 wins compared to 140 setting the target.

But it has proved a slippery spiral since then. Twenty-seven of South Africa’s victories have been achieved when they have batted first and only 15 chasing.

And to think De Villiers chose to chase when he won the toss on Saturday. No doubt on the strength of the fact that seven of the previous 10 ODIs that were decided at Eden Park had been won by the team batting second.

Indeed, South Africa celebrated one of those successes themselves when they scored 208-5 to beat New Zealand in March 2012.

However, that is a rarity whose ghost may yet haunt South Africa at this World Cup.

-Telford Vice

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