New Zealand v South Africa, 10 June 1999Trevor Chesterfield
LONDON - If you listen carefully enough to Hansie Cronje's pronouncements on South Africa's top-order failures this World Cup there is the distinct impression he has all but admitted that time is starting to run out as they prepare to tackle New Zealand at Edgbaston in Birmingham on Thursday.
While victory over the luckless Kiwis will ensure South Africa a semi-final place next week, the game also presents a last opportunity for the top six strike some sort of batting stability before the game against joint second favourites Australia.
Cronje, like the coach Bob Woolmer, is not prepared to look too far ahead: not more than 24 hours if this tournament is a guideline regarding their thinking of team philosophy. At least he partly peered at the New Zealand clash when he said there was a need to do something about the mental make up of the team's batting approach.
You can guarantee that Cronje, and Woolmer for that matter, will want to have their semi-final spot wrapped up before meeting Australia at Headingley in Leeds on Sunday: unless the weather intervenes again as it did at the same venue on Sunday and yesterday. New Zealand's match against Zimbabwe was so wrecked that the dreaded Messrs Duckworth and Lewis theory on what a rain-affected result should look like made an untimely debut.
The Kiwis, who had restricted Zimbabwe to 175 in 49.3 overs were sorely penalised for their bowling and fielding efforts, mainly because after 25 overs they had 97 for three.
While some of this is of concern for South Africa in the tournament's long-term, it also highlights, to an extent, the issue of the disappointing run-making abilities of the top six. Already Daryll Cullinan has been criticised for his performances by former Test opener Barry Richards, more in frustration for the younger man's inability to put a commanding total on the board, than anything else.
There have been times when Cullinan's batting has been blessed with those lofty touches of text book magic and solid determination. Yet apart from the performance against Sri Lanka at Northampton when he held an innings together against a lot of sideways movement in ideal conditions for seam and swing, he has not had the touch of confidence you would expect.
So far Gary Kirsten has escaped similar critical appraisal, unless his continuous run of low scores, apart from the England game, has become the accepted norm. Which may offer the query whether it is not time for a serious selection rethink, or are the selectors bothered about that too many changes could spoil a broth which has already showing distinct signs of curdling?
Whatever Cronje finally decides, with input from Graham Ford, Corrie van Zyl as well as Woolmer, perhaps reverting to Cullinan as an opener, move Jacques Kallis into three, presenting Dale Benkenstein with his World Cup debut will leave Kirsten sitting out the Super Six games against the Kiwis and perhaps Australia.
And while the selectors mull over this problem little to nothing his been said about Steve Elworthy's bowling in this tournament. It seems to be accepted form that the Northerns Titans bowler done well he now has the third best economy rate by the bowlers in this tournament. And the chances are this is going to improve as the semi-finals approach.