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Why spin-shy South Africa are headed for another ICC Cricket World Cup failure

South Africa have not produced quality spinners and their batsmen can’t play spin with any conviction. This could cause more disappointment in next year’s ICC World Cup in England.

cricket Updated: Feb 06, 2018 13:16 IST
Khurram Habib
Khurram Habib
Hindustan Times, Cape Town
India vs South Africa,Indian cricket team,South Africa cricket team
South Africa’s troubles with spin could spell trouble for them in next year’s ICC World Cup in England. (REUTERS)

South Africa struggling against spin in One-day Internationals isn’t unusual. But the way they capitulated in Sunday’s game shocked everyone.

Strangely, the Proteas have been publicly claiming they are preparing for the 2019 World Cup in England and blooding in youngsters in this series though most of the batsmen in the current XI are seniors.

In the second ODI, barring Aiden Markram and Khaya Zondo, who replaced injured AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, all are first team players and seniors -- Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, David Miller and Chris Morris.

Unfortunately, none of them, barring Morris, have shown the determination and skill to stay on, especially against spin.

The abysmal show prompted former South Africa paceman Fanie de Villiers to question their chances at the World Cup. “If this is the best the South Africans have, I don’t think they’ll ever win the World Cup. Teams winning the World Cup have had quality spinners and also have been able to play spin well.

“Teams like Pakistan and Sri Lanka have won the Cup but not South Africa. Why? Because of the difference spin makes,” said De Villiers, whose tight and smart bowling on the placid surfaces of Sharjah and India in the 1990s made him one of the best ODI bowlers SA has produced.

Spin has a say

De Villiers has a point. In its modern avatar, with coloured clothing and white ball, the World Cup has seen most champion teams rely on spinners. In 1992, Pakistan leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed was joint second highest wicket-taker. In 1996, the quartet of Muttiah Muralitharan, Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Dharmasena and Aravinda de Silva took Sri Lanka to the title.

In 1999, Aussie leggie Shane Warne took 20 wickets to be joint highest wicket-taker. Saqlain Mushtaq, who ended as runner-up with Pakistan was his team’s top wicket-taker with 17. In 2007 too, Australia’s Chinaman bowler Brad Hogg featured high on the list while Yuvraj Singh’s golden arm played a role in India’s win in 2011.

All of these teams, including Australia of 2003 and 2015 who didn’t rely much on spinners, had shown the ability to play spin well. In fact, the Aussies beat the subcontinental teams convincingly in all the editions they won.

South Africa’s weakness in World Cups, in contrast, has been spin. “It has been that way. In the 1996 quarter-finals, they were cruising but crashed against spin,” says De Villiers, referring to the match where they folded for 245 against West Indies after being 186/3, losing by 19 runs.

They lost eight wickets to spinners. Off-spinner Roger Harper took four but part-time spinners Keith Arthurton and Jimmy Adams shared four wickets.

Warne buries SA

In the 1999 semi-finals, leg-spinner Shane Warne ran through them picking four as they struggled to chase 213.

In the 2003 Cup game against Sri Lanka, where a botched up Duckworth-Lewis calculation led to their elimination, spinners shared five out of their six wickets to fall.

One reason Proteas struggle to find players who can put pressure on established stars is that a lot of talent has moved out.

Players like Rilee Roussow – part of 2015 World Cup team – Stiaan Van Zyl, the children of former cricketers Ray Jennings and Kepler Wessels, Colin Ingram, Richard Levi, Hardus Viljoen and Kyle Abbott have all moved abroad. Colin Munro and Grant Elliott moved to New Zealand.

“It is the intricacies of South Africa that make talented players leave. These players on the bench are good but there were better players among those who have left,” says De Villiers.

First Published: Feb 06, 2018 08:47 IST