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June 1, 1999


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Fanie de Villiers

The World Cup has had a lot of ups and downs over the last few weeks. From Tendulkar's father's death to the bad form of the defending champions. Somehow, I doubted the commitment of the host nation, because their cricket was just as bad as their efforts to put up a proper opening ceremony.

Something that has attracted everybody's attention during this tournament was the fact that the best two teams have lost in games where the opposition was regarded as a mere walk-over. Particularly, the game between Pakistan and Bangladesh. The bookies must have lost a lot of money in the process. Most of the more interesting stories in the press had something to do with the games of Pakistan and South Africa. Most of the articles had questions in the line of:: "Will the two teams have lost faith in their performances and abilities after the humiliation? Would they be mentally superior after a game like that?"

Let's spend some time on these two questions. I'm going to try and give you the views and thoughts of the players behind the scenes, when a game like this pops up. The first thought would be how do we explain this to the people around us? Not because we don't know what went wrong, but how do you explain a game like that in such a way that it doesn't look as if you are looking for excuses.

Everybody's first reaction would be that the team was not commited, or that the team just played pathetic cricket. I think most people who know the game, know that this kind of thing happens in international cricket. A weak provincial or state team can easily beat a touring international team. We have all seen it before. On the day any ball can get you out, especially a bad ball. A weaker bowler can, on the right day, bowl only six good deliveries in a whole game and get three wickets as a result. A batsman can nick the first ball he plays and miss, while in previous games, he could get away with it for a whole hour before he nicks one. What it comes down to, is that on the wrong day for any side, anything is going to go against you, no matter what you do.

Let me try and explain how we handle such an event in the team meetings to follow. As a batting team, you have to find out for yourself if you got out by good deliveries, or if you got yourself out. The same applies for the batsman that is not scoring runs. If he gets himself out every time by a bad shot, he has got room for worry; but if he got bowled out by a good delivery that could have got anyone, then it is obviously a different story.

You, as an out of form batsman, don't need to worry too much in this case, your luck will change soon enough. This kind of scenario is what happens in team meetings. The same kind of discussion would be used by bowlers if things didn't go according to plan.

As for South Africa losing to Zimbabwe, you can easily say that good bowling got us out. Johnson swung the ball away from the bat and got the edge of the bat all the time. It wasn't all bad shots; that could have been caused by complacency or lack of commitment. On a day like that, you know that you have been beaten, and there would not be as much worry in the camp as what some people might expect.

In South Africa, the news was devastating. Everybody thinks the SA side is unbeatable, because of their good record in one-day internationals. I am sure that most of us who know cricket would realise that the fortunes of a game can be changed in one over by a bowler and one over by a batsman. Lance Klusener and Wasim Akram and Sachin Tendulkar have proved it many a time before. They have got the ability to take an over for 25 runs, or take three wickets in four balls. Such players save games from the hands of defeat, and are more reliable than players that just play good conservative cricket.

South Africa have been doing quite well over the last 15 games or so, not because they play good cricket, but because they have got saved by Lance Klusener and miracle knocks by Hansie Cronje, or brilliant catches by Jonty. They did not play the good conservative cricket we all have seen them play over the last few years. It is very up and down cricket. Somehow, the top six batsman haven't got that consistency anymore and need to be saved by Klusener or a very good bowling effort.

This loss was on the cards and let's just hope that their form comes back in the next few games. You can get away with miracles against weaker sides, like the West Indies and New Zealand, but not against the top sides of the world.

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