Proteas gather steam for Eng
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – South Africa can be said to be making “strides” now after an iffy start to their ICC World Twenty20 campaign.
Thursday’s largely impressive 13-run triumph over a tough-nut New Zealand side in Barbados took them straight to the top of their Super Eights section after one outing by each of the four sides in the group.
They lead England, who downed Pakistan in the Kensington Oval double-header, on net run rate (+0.65 to their +0.39) and now these sides go head to head at the same venue on Saturday (19:30 our time).
It ought to be a fascinating encounter because Paul Collingwood’s men are hitting their straps too, and were hardly less impressive as one Kevin Pietersen -- 73 not out off 52 balls – spearheaded their own win.
The Proteas may, of course, not benefit especially from any Afrikaans strategic chatter in the field because all of England’s T20 top three at present are South African-born and, even if “KP” poses the most obvious threat, Michael Lumb and Craig Kieswetter are gaining in confidence as well.
The rookie openers have been giving their team fairly high-tempo starts at this event: against West Indies they posted 36 in 3.4 overs, then 24 in four overs against Ireland and 44 in 5.4 overs against the Pakistanis.
With the wristy, audacious and sometimes highly unorthodox Eoin Morgan also in good nick, England are not lacking in urgency at the crease these days and the Proteas will bank on their in-form pace bowlers to unsettle their plans with early strikes.
As Cricinfo’s Andrew McGlashan noted after the Pakistan triumph: “Since Andy Flower took charge as coach (England’s) development as a one-day unit has really gathered pace.
“No longer is the short form – either 50 overs or 20 – the ugly duckling of English cricket.”
Still, South Africa are likelier to dwell on their own positives of the last couple of days as they size up the next challenge.
They got a lot right against the Kiwis, from some sensible selection tweaks to Graeme Smith’s calm hold on the strategic tiller on the field itself.
Reuniting the “old firm” of Smith and Jacques Kallis at the top of the order was a sound move; both looked in pretty sprightly touch even if Smith again got himself out as he was gathering momentum quite ominously for Daniel Vettori and company.
And not only did Herschelle Gibbs produce a solid effort at the crease after his recall to the side as the No 3, but his sublime fielding and catching ability – something Sport24 had urged not to be under-valued in the immediate lead-up – was pivotal to stifling the game Kiwi chase of a stiff 171 to win.
Meanwhile Johan Botha’s installation ahead of Roelof van der Merwe as main spinner paid dividends too: the former arguably offers a better general “cricketing package” in this format of the game, although Van der Merwe has not disgraced at his chief chore and perhaps the opportunity will arise again for both spinners to do duty on slower, gripping pitches than the one at Bridgetown.
The explosiveness at the crease of AB de Villiers and Albie Morkel toward the climax of the South African innings went a long way to tilting the game as well.
Morkel struck five precious sixes en route to his 18-ball knock of 40, revealing once again his uncanny ability to unnerve bowlers who are trying to get their yorkers right yet being straight-driven over the ropes mercilessly for their (only minor) sins!
As Vettori ruefully put it: “You have to be inch-perfect against someone like Morkel.”
If the Proteas can keep lifting their broader standards of “accuracy”, they could be in business for an early nail-down of a semi-final spot on Saturday night.