The World Cup starts in three week’s time and every team is fine tuning their game and their squads. They are tweaking different combinations to find out which one works best for when the big tournament is upon us.
As I look around the world at the current matches that are on the go, I wonder if the South African board has missed a trick?
There are two schools of thought when planning a build up to a World Cup. One is to play weaker teams and make sure your players are all scoring runs and taking wickets. Their confidence will be sky high and they’ll go into the tournament believing they are on top of their game. The other way is to play against strong sides and make sure your players are up to the standard required for a World Cup tournament.
The “easy route” strategy
I believe South Africa have gone for the former option. Yes, the West Indies are not exactly Ireland and Zimbabwe, but we all know that on any given day they can be. They are all about a smash and dash type of cricket – hence why they are a decent T20 side. But as the game gets longer and moves into ODIs and Tests, they become progressively worse.
Are we on form? Of course we are! Are our batsmen scoring runs and bowlers taking wickets? Easily! But there is one HUGE red flag for me: we haven’t played one truly competitive ODI in this build-up to the biggest tournament we’ve never won. South Africa generally get knocked out of World Cups because when the pressure is on, we tank it. So why are we not playing against teams that will have us 180 for 6, chasing 270?
Our three ODIs against the Windies have resulted in us winning the first by 61 runs (D/L method) and bowling them all out in 28 overs; winning the second by a ridiculous 148 runs; and the third by nine wickets and 25.2 overs to spare. This is not competitive or challenging in any way.
Competitors getting a run for their money
When I look around at the other matches on the go, I see New Zealand testing themselves against a strong Sri Lankan outfit. The Kiwis won the first ODI by only three wickets, and were 149/6 chasing 219. Sri Lanka won the second match with just 14 balls to spare. Their series is competitively sitting at 1-1 and may go down to the final ODI where they can feel the pressure of a “final” to go along with the close finishes during all the matches.
England, India and Australia are playing in a tri-series. They too, want to test themselves against the best teams in the world. The first game featured Australia vs England, and although the Aussies won with 60 deliveries to spare, they, in fact, needed nine batsmen to get to England’s total.
The second match saw Australia beat India by four wickets with just one over to spare. Another close finish. Our Proteas have utilised their number five batsmen just once in the three ODI’s thus far. We have racked up 842 runs, losing just 11 wickets along the way. The West Indies have scored 577 runs and lost 27 wickets.
What are your thoughts on our build up matches? Have we got it right playing against the West Indies in a five match series and then once off matches a few days before the tournament against New Zealand and Sri Lanka? I think we’ve got it wrong.