In the year 2000, at a time when West Indies' decline had started gaining prominence in the cricket world, Steve Waugh was asked if he had any advice for Jimmy Adams to help their team come out of the rut. "Have a serious drink tonight," quipped the Australian captain to laughter in the MCG press room. Faf du Plessis's humour didn't resort to such black humour, but he did have time for some self-deprecation after his side lost another bruising World Cup match to New Zealand, leaving them with only a far-fetched mathematical chance of still qualifying for the semifinals.
"You know, it's tough now. Like you can feel in the dressing room, the guys are hurting. I'm feeling five years older. My body is really sore after that," he said. " So we left everything out there, and that's all I can ask for as a captain, that the guys fought. They showed that."There was a feeling of deja vu around South Africa's defeat at Edgbaston with the team finishing on the wrong side of every 50-50 moment in the game. Colin de Grandhomme was on 22 when he chipped Tahir towards short mid-wicket where a leaping David Miller just couldn't hold on to the catch. De Grandhomme went on to make a match-defining 60. Kane Williamson was on 76 when Imran Tahir went up in appeal after bowling the final ball of his 10-over spell. The New Zealand captain had toe-ended the ball, so the television replays confirmed. Because no one else appealed, Williamson survived to polish off the chase with a stunning unbeaten 106.
"We weren't aware of it. I think I was at long on at the time, and Quinny is the closest to the action. He's always my go to man," du Plessis said, when asked about the reprieve. "I just thought it was a plain miss. I just heard about it now at the post match that he said he had a nick on it. But even Kane said he didn't know he had to fine tune it. He would have referred it. But that's not where the game was won and lost."
Batting, the problem
Du Plessis acknowledged that his team missed out on the half chances but refused to blame fielding or bowling for the team's dreadful World Cup campaign. The batsmen, du Plessis said, had sold the team short. "In the field and with the ball, the guys tried for 50 overs, we threw everything at New Zealand and that's all I can ask for. There was a great intensity.
"It's just pure numbers on the board. Batters getting the runs that they should. If you look at opposition, there's been big runs scored by batting lineups, you know. We've got a pretty youngish batting lineup if you take Rassie [van der Dussen], Aiden [Markram], guys like that, even Andile to a degree. He's going really good at his cricket, but he's young in terms of putting innings together. So if you compare our battle lineup, especially our batting lineup to other lineups around the world, purely on a numbers point of view, that doesn't stack up with the rest of the world in terms of numbers. So we're not as experienced perhaps as other teams when it comes to that, but, yeah, the reason why I say not as good as other teams is we're just not producing scores or innings that can win you games."Du Plessis narrowed the batting problem down to the experienced batsmen, including himself, not being able to kick on and score 100s as Williamson had done here. In five completed games so far, South Africa have six scores between 50 and 70, with de Kock's 68 against Afghanistan and England the highest of the lot followed by van der Dussen's effort earlier today.
"The ball was hooping around corners there. So we felt like we did the whole work, and we thought it would be easy, but they kept getting a wicket every time there was a 50 partnership, 60 partnership, and you need that to go to 100, and you need one guy to bat through the innings. Rassie did a little bit of that, but it was a 60 to 67. You need someone to get 100 plus, and that gives you that 15, 20 more runs," du Plessis said.
"We need guys to stand up and put in performances that will win you games. That has been where we've been short in the innings we've played so far. The one with Quinny [de Kock] getting 60 or 70 the previous game is signs of that, but we still want more. We want guys to put in match performance runs, as he showed. That's why I use him as a reference, you need someone to go further, and we haven't had that. That's purely the finger pointing back at us as a batting unit.
"I'm in the same category as the stuff that I've been saying. When I speak about putting your hand up and putting performances in, I don't point my finger anywhere. I point at us as a unit. Certainly, I need to be the leading run scorer in our batting unit with Quinny probably. That's been happening the last two seasons."
Du Plessis, 34, who is unlikely to be around for the 2023 World Cup, backed van der Dussen and Markram to take up leadership roles within the South African setup after an overhaul of senior players who'll move out of the side post the World Cup and in the coming cycle. "Naturally with quite a few guys at the end of their careers, you're probably getting three or four guys getting away from that," he said.
"You know, depending on cricket South Africa, I feel in terms of what they believe is a good way forward, they might want a complete change. But those are things you sit down and talk about. For me, it's just finding -- we've got some young players, so there's a future there. The young guys, I've really backed them this tournament. I think they've got a great future ahead of them. Rassie has shown that he's the real deal. I think he's got leadership capabilities as well. He's standing up to be a strong man in a big tournament for us. Andile has done well as a young guy. Aiden, we know the kind of player he is. He showed signs today that he can do it.
"What will naturally happen is you'll probably lose six or seven players after this tournament. Whether you want to change more than that, no, I don't think you need to do more than that."