CWC19: Why didn’t South Africa make the semi-finals?

Adrian Meredith sifts through the wreckage of South Africa’s World Cup campaign to identify what went wrong.

If South Africa had needed to beat Australia in their final match to qualify for the semi-finals, then fell agonisingly short, we could have forgiven them. But instead that final match was the difference between seventh and eighth. South Africa won and in so doing went past Bangladesh on the table, to finish seventh, but were still two games behind fourth placed New Zealand, and were nowhere near making it. So let’s look at what went wrong.

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(1) Did they simply suck?

This is what a lot of armchair experts were claiming, especially those who claimed that Bangladesh, who finished behind them on the table, were the real deal. The reality is that this South African team, even without A B de Villiers, missing Dale Steyn and with Lungi Ngidi ruled out through injury, still defeated top of the table Australia in their final match.

This team was good enough to win the World Cup. They picked the right squad with the possible exception of A B de Villiers, and the possible inclusion of Dale Steyn. Perhaps they should have left Steyn out and de Villiers in, in retrospect.

But when you consider how terrible some of the other squads were, especially Australia and West Indies, South Africa had a good squad. it was close to the best they could have had. They didn’t suck. They were ranked third in the world pre-tournament.

(2) The tournament scheduling hurt

India benefited from being able to start late while New Zealand benefited from starting with easier opponents. We all know that. South Africa got the worst of both worlds. The only easy game they had to start with – against Bangladesh – they lost – but they also lost all of the hard games too. While we can forgive the ICC for the order that they played other teams, we can’t forgive them for letting India start late and South Africa start early.

(3) The injuries hurt

Dale Steyn’s inclusion was always a risk, as he had a number of injuries that could flare up. While his injury was a new one, his age and how often he had succumbed to injuries always made this a risk and in retrospect he shouldn’t have been included in the squad. Indeed, in retrospect South Africa probably should have left Steyn out and included de Villiers, much like what England did when they replaced batsman Alex Hales with bowler Jofra Archer.

The injury to Steyn really hurt the mindset, not to mention the attack, as they had no replacement for him. The idea of having Rabada, Ngidi and Steyn all charging in was magnificent, but when it was 2, and even 1 later on, it changed their gameplan dramatically.

(4) The Bangladesh game killed them

South Africa were winning the game, but then Shakib al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim, with rockets being thrown at them, refused to back down. At first defensive, but then, when the rockets had all been thrown, they counter-attacked and ended up with Bangladesh’s highest ever score, and a 21 run win. There is no way that South Africa should have lost that, but they just didn’t have a plan B, and once Shakib and Mushi survived for long enough, the game was just about over.

(5) Their negativity cost them at least two games

The New Zealand game and the Pakistan game were both lost largely because of the Bangladesh game, and the negativity that ensued. There is no way that South Africa should have lost either game, and yet they did. The nature of the loss to New Zealand hurt them even further.

(6) Hashim Amla’s forced miss due to concussion hurt

While Hashim Amla wasn’t in tip top form, being forced to miss a game due to the concussion rule when he wasn’t injured really hurt them. While, yes, player safety is paramount, it had an air of unfairness about it. It happened right when South Africa could least afford it.

(7) Being unable to replace Dale Steyn quickly enough hurt

Every other team when they had injuries were able to replace the player immediately but not South Africa. With the ICC taking too long to allow a replacement, South Africa were forced to play a game one bowler short. It was yet another piece of unfairness aimed at this team.

(8) They became negative

Most teams, when faced with genuine unfairness, get a lot of support, but no media teams were even mentioning them. There was no mention of the scheduling issues or the injury issues – instead they claimed that South Africa just stunk. It is the kind of thing that would make the best teams become negative, and it sure did make South Africa negative. The world was against them.

(9) They didn’t think they could win

If you look at how Pakistan treated their semi-final hopes, and compare it with South Africa, Pakistan still felt like they were in with a chance, even after they won just one match out of their first five. Sri Lanka, in spite of playing worse than any other team, still talked up their chances. Bangladesh, in spite of being the second least fancied team in the tournament, still talked up their chances.

Even when England were written off in the media, as if it was a guarantee that they wouldn’t make it, still fought back. But not South Africa. One negative article written and South Africa gave up. They need to learn to ignore the press and just play their own game.

(10) If they had it to do again, what would they change?

Firstly, leave Dale Steyn out of the squad. Second, bring A B de Villiers in. Third, yell at the ICC not to force them to play an extra game and make sure that India play their fair share. Fourth, if they did lose a big game, don’t let it get to them. Fifth, when they were behind against Bangladesh, fight back. Sixth, if they did lose to Bangladesh, recognise it as the upset it was, as a one-off that doesn’t make them a bad team. Seventh, if the world was against them, ride with it and fight back with wins over New Zealand and Pakistan, which would have been enough to qualify for the semi-finals. There were a lot of things they did wrong, and it is ultimately their own fault, but it’s not how many in the media are portraying it.

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