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ICC Champions Trophy: South Africa missing spark in game, says Graeme Smith

South African crashed out of ICC Champions Trophy 2017 after a tame loss to India in their final group game on Sunday. Former Proteas skipper Graeme Smith offers his thoughts on the team’s premature exit

icc champions trophy 2017 Updated: Jun 12, 2017 20:18 IST
Graeme Smith
Graeme Smith
Champions Trophy 2017,ICC Champions Trophy,South African cricket team
South Africa suffered a batting collapse against India in their must-win Group B game against India at the ICC Champions Trophy on Sunday, to crash out of the tournament.(AP)

I left the ground Sunday feeling as many South African fans will be feeling.

Disappointment that the team haven’t managed to recreate the form and the brand of cricket that have seen them be so successful in white ball cricket over the past 12-18 months. I still care deeply about the environment that I spent so much time building as a player, and it hurt to see such an unrecognisable South Africa performance.

The side have been missing that spark, or that intensity to their play that characterises South Africa cricket. It’s easy at times, such as these, to point to a variety of reasons as to why the performances haven’t come at yet another major tournament, but for me it’s a relatively simple equation.

The positivity to our play and the energy that we’ve come to expect from this group of players just hasn’t been there.

READ | South Africa don’t deserve to be in Champions Trophy semis: Faf du Plessis

Today’s display is the perfect example of that. With the bat, there was a real chance to make an impression on the game early, by looking to, at least, try and put the India seamers under pressure. That didn’t happen, and this cautious style of play that seems to lack the intent that we’ve seen from the same players previously, is what puzzles me the most.

What I would have liked to have seen from the guys at the top of the order is, at least, an attempt to put Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar under pressure. Anything to put them off their game and bring their plans in to question. Our approach was far more conservative, and if you’re going to play that way, you can’t afford the calamities that unfolded in terms of the two mid-innings run outs. They will kill any momentum you have, and suck the energy from a dressing room.

Today, those key moments in the game where you look for someone to take the initiative just seemed to pass South Africa by. India played the game with more intensity, it took more risks and stuck to its method and game formula far better than the South Africa team.

Whereas I’ve grown so used to the free flowing, often powerful starts to our batting, today was slightly timid and that led to a position where you could almost see a panic creep in to our play. Panic related to getting ‘a score’, and panic about how we were going to get to 300 plus which seems to be par in this tournament so far.

READ | India vs South Africa: Soft dismissals cost us the match, says AB de Villiers

Mindset, and your approach to the game, are those one percent factors that make the difference at this level. When those factors are not there, you pay the price and it’s the team’s approach that has been the missing ingredient. If you’re ever so slightly off the boil that will translate to the performances on the field and often it just doesn’t look right. Since the team have started against England in May, it hasn’t looked right to me as an observer.

I still believe this to be a wonderful short form side, with very few – if any – weaknesses. It just hasn’t happened on the field, especially with the bat, and I know that those players will be hurting tonight as they prepare to leave the tournament having yet again failed to dispel the questions that are always levelled at South Africa sides.

Faf du Plessis is one of the key elements in this side. I know him very well, and the 10 overs that saw him involved with the run-outs before getting out himself will not sit well with him.

India was full of confidence in comparison, and credit has to be given to Virat Kohli and the team in terms of how they’ve gone about their cricket so far at the ICC Champions Trophy.

READ | Virat Kohli says pressure from bowlers led to fielding success vs South Africa

I said in my last column that India’s seam bowling has come on hugely since my playing days, and that shone through today. In this day and age, with the Powerplays and all the other factors that work against bowlers, to go at under 3.5 runs per over is a sensational return for both Bumrah and Kumar.

Their skills and execution meant that South Africa had to try and attack two of the best spinners playing the game at the moment, and that saw a rapid demise as the South African innings went in to a spin that it never came out of.

India will be overwhelmingly strong favourites to make it to the final, and we’ve seen from their record at tournaments previously that they almost revel in the pressure of those occasions.

A disappointing tournament for any South Africa player or fan, but one from which valuable lessons can be, and have to be taken with the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 to be played in the United Kingdom as well in less than two years.

First Published: Jun 12, 2017 17:21 IST