In three of the four times South Africa bowled first in this World Cup, they conceded over 300 runs. In the two times (excluding the washed-out game against the Windies) they batted first, South Africa made 227 and 241, without being bowled out in either game.
This sums up South Africa’s catastrophic campaign this World Cup.
A loss against Pakistan at Lord’s on Sunday, their fifth in the tournament, has seen the Proteas make an early exit from the World Cup. While they never really turned up in any discipline, the relaxed, ‘playing it cool’ attitude before the tournament reflected in lackadaisical performances in the first powerplay of every game. More often than not, South Africa were playing catch up in the middle overs, without having the right resources to do so.
With injury ruling Dale Steyn out of the tournament and Lungi Ngidi for a few games, and Rabada appearing overworked after a hectic IPL, they had less than 100% resources to turn up and grab the game by the scruff of its neck with the new ball. In six completed matches, they never managed to take more than one wicket during the first ten overs -- a powerplay strike rate of 84, the joint worst after Bangladesh’s 186.
While their World Cup campaign began with a successful left-field move against England – Imran Tahir opening the attack and picking up the wicket of Jonny Bairstow in the first over – it didn’t quite take off from there.
The seamers were a disappointment, picking up just four wickets in 56 overs across matches in this phase of the game. 63.83% of the runs taken off their seamers in the powerplays have come off boundaries. Sample this as an example: in the game against Pakistan on Sunday, they conceded nine fours and a six in the first ten overs. 42 of the 58 runs Pakistan scored without losing a single wicket in this phase came off boundaries.
That shoddy performance against Pakistan was not a one-off. Against Bangladesh, 11 fours came off the first 10. From 14/0 in four overs, Bangladesh raced to 65 for the loss of one wicket by the end of the first powerplay. The balls per boundary rate for South Africa’s pacers in this phase – 7.6 – is the second worst after Bangladesh in this World Cup.
Ngidi, expected to lead their powerplay charge in Steyn’s absence, has been a prime culprit. He has conceded runs at an economy of 7.2 without picking up a single wicket in the first powerplay. Rabada has picked up three of the four wickets to fall to pacers in the first ten overs, and was perhaps unlucky to be denied a fourth against India when Faf du Plessis dropped Rohit Sharma in the slips – but even so, the overworked Rabada has appeared well below his best.
While Imran Tahir, Chris Morris and Andile Phehlukwayo have pulled the run rate back in the middle overs to make up for the overdose of boundaries in the powerplay, there still hasn’t been enough wickets coming in that phase either. The Afghanistan game aside, South Africa have taken just seven wickets in six matches from overs 20 to 40.
In short, there is no penetration in the first powerplay, and no catch-up in the middle. And this issue is not restricted to bowling alone. In fact, it is even more glaring with the bat.
The debate surrounding Hashim Amla’s selection hogged a few headlines pre-tournament, and the voices have only grown louder during the course of the World Cup with the veteran clearly appearing all at sea. He averages 24.6 in this Cup after seven matches, and has been striking at a shocking rate of 59.13.
While Amla’s dodgy form was known before the tournament, the unexpected blow came from Quinton de Kock. Striking at a rate of above 100 and averaging 54.15 after the Champions Trophy, de Kock was South Africa’s go-to man at the top. However, despite making the two highest scores by South African batsmen this World Cup – 68 apiece against England and Afghanistan – de Kock has struck them at an underwhelming rate of 83.80. He has also averaged much lesser than his numbers prior to the tournament.
The tale isn’t too different for the skipper, Faf du Plessis, either. His strike rate and average have seen a distinct drop this World Cup from his numbers prior to the tournament.
The sore thumb in the stats is South Africa’s ‘low risk, low returns’ approach in the powerplay. In the first ten overs, the cautious approach is particularly evident. They have lost nine wickets in the first powerplay in seven matches, and the scoring rate is a meagre 4.02, the worst for any team in this phase.
India’s run rate in this phase isn’t impressive either, at 4.22, but they have had a completely contrasting tournament to that of South Africa’s primarily because they have lost lesser wickets in this phase, and thus have been able to kick on after the sheen on the ball wears off. Indian batsmen have made three hundreds and five half-centuries in the World Cup thus far. South Africa, on the contrary, have lagged behind with none of their batsmen converting starts. There have been seven half-centuries but no hundreds, and the highest score by any batsman is 68.
That in sum is the story of South Africa in the powerplay – very few runs scored, lots of wickets lost. And with no AB de Villiers in the middle-order, the rate of scoring during the middle phase has been quite shoddy. None of their regular top six batsmen have struck at a rate of 90 or more, which is surprising.
The unadventurous approach by the top five in the tournament is in sharp contrast to that of their game plan in the two years prior to the World Cup. In this period, South Africa’s top five struck at a combined rate of 92.79, second only to England. However, stage fright appears to have hit them at the World Cup, with the top five striking at a rate of 78.49, well below their potential and the worst after Afghanistan for any team in the tournament.
The narrative is pretty evident. South Africa has sat back and let the matches take their own course. The listlessness in this opening powerplay, with both bat and ball, has repeatedly pushed them out of their comfort zone in the remaining 40 overs, and the results have been predictable, if tragic.