ICC World Twenty20
Proteas have it all to do now
Gary Kirsten (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – Having finished on the wrong side of their schizophrenic first Super Eights match against Pakistan at the ICC World Twenty20 on Friday, South Africa face a white-knuckle few days as they almost certainly require successive victories over Australia and India to make the semi-finals.
The Aussies lie in wait on Sunday and then the Indians on Tuesday, with both games scheduled for the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo where the Proteas got fatally bogged down at the crease against the much-touted Pakistani spin arsenal.
It will be some consolation to AB de Villiers and company that they looked for all money at one stage to have dramatically turned the game around, only for their death bowling – the admirable Dale Steyn exempted -- to let them down from the 16th over onward as a swashbuckling display from No 9 batsman Umar Gul, in particular, earned the Subcontinental team a dramatic reprieve.
Amidst the relief of getting over the line with two balls to spare in an extraordinarily fluctuating affair, Pakistan must ask serious questions of their top-order batsmen, who so nearly conspired – courtesy of some utterly madcap dismissals -- to botch a fixture they ought to have won at a canter.
South Africa will know that despite their later grittiness in the field, they really lost this one through their stuttering and indecisive batting display after winning the toss and opting for first strike.
A total of 133 for six, at a venue where the average first-knock score is 162, was always going to be difficult to defend.
They were on the back foot in this match more or less from the outset, a situation not helped by the rare instance these days of losing “The Mighty Hash” (one HM Amla) as quickly as the second over for six.
It almost seemed as though the entire remainder of the innings was a cautious rebuild job, because save for sporadic salvoes of brazen boundary-hitting, even twos and threes were hard to come by, so the run rate never ballooned to the degree it badly needed to.
Certainly the Proteas’ strategic approach warrants scrutiny: ace stroke-player De Villiers, for instance, held himself back to No 6, and entry to the battle as late as the middle of the 13th over.
But more perplexing to many observers was the fatally lopsided reliance on seam bowling by the South Africans even as their spinners excelled to a man -- and this on top of the educative evidence of the earlier innings in which the Pakistani “tweakers” had been notable stranglers.
It can be all too easy at times to resort to cold, after-match statistics, but they do reveal that the Proteas’ up-for-it trio of spinners (Robin Peterson, Johan Botha and JP Duminy) accounted for just eight overs between them at a cost of only 30 runs and snaring of four wickets.
Not helped by one particularly leaky over each from Jacques Kallis and Albie Morkel, the four faster men, by contrast, bowled 11.4 overs at a greatly more damaging cost of 98 runs, albeit also for four scalps.
Although this represented a third loss in as many encounters with Pakistan at World T20 level, at least on this occasion South Africa were not actually eliminated.
They clearly still have a strong pulse and ought to be highly motivated to atone for this setback against the Aussies on Sunday – especially as they have to!
It might also be argued that the Proteas have now had their “bad game”.
In many previous ICC world one-day tournaments, after all, they have often flown handsomely in the early stages, only for the hype around them to build and build and then their hull to be suddenly torpedoed at a critical time.
Shaun Pollock provided some cause for optimism from the SuperSport studio, in his post mortem of the defeat: “You’ve got to have your wits about you in death overs; too many balls were easy to put away.
“But although it depends on the surface presented, we should hold the aces in the spin department against Australia.”
Left-armer Peterson was particularly accomplished on Friday, his figures of 4-1-15-2 representing his best economy rate (3.75) in a completed spell from 14 internationals in this format.
Still, beating the old southern hemisphere enemy will be no walk in the park: the Proteas were a little fortunate to salvage a 1-1 outcome the last time these foes met in a T20 mini-series, on our shores last season.
There may also be fitness concerns for the clash around pace spearhead Steyn, who took a fearful blow on an ankle trying to stop a straight drive in the penultimate over of the Pakistan chase.
His tourney bowling analysis, spread over three games, currently stands at 10-0-41-6 which tells you how indispensable he is to the South African cause.
We’d better hope he can bite the bullet on Sunday ...
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