ICC World Twenty20

Proteas in uphill task... already

2014-03-22 22:30
AB de Villiers (AFP Photo)
Cape Town – The Proteas have lost four Twenty20 internationals on the trot ... now can they suddenly win three to ensure progress to the semi-finals of the ICC World Twenty20?

That is the taxing requirement they may well be facing, following the disappointment of running highly-fancied Sri Lanka spiritedly close in their Chittagong opener on Saturday but ending on the losing side of a thriller by five runs.

On several occasions during the chase South Africa, it must be said, appeared to get their noses in front but then a wicket – more often than not of a batsman just beginning to look “in” – would arrest their rhythm and the Lankans also produced a master-class in composed death bowling to snuff out the challenge.

It may sound a little dramatic to say the Proteas are in a precarious position at this infant stage of the event ... but the truth is that they well nigh are.

While a mildly unexpected win over the most fancied side in their five-team group would have been a wonderful tonic for a push to the last four, the compressed nature of the competition means they have it all to do, instead, to book a place.

It is not out of the question that two victories in the remaining three games (New Zealand on Monday, then the Netherland and England) may yet be enough to squeeze SA through if the pool ends up being a tight one, perhaps with just one runaway side at the top, but the much safer ticket would obviously be triumph in each of the trio of fixtures.

Ahead of the event, the Proteas’ first two games always looked the most demanding, so knocking over the tenacious Black Caps, who tackled England in the late game of Saturday’s double-header, has become absolutely imperative 48 hours on if they are to avoid the risk of the “easier” clashes down the line becoming pretty close to academic for them.

New Zealand have a habit of being irksome foes to South Africa at ICC events, and will no doubt wish that to be the case again.

On the plus side, the Proteas – who may or may not have intended first-choice captain Faf du Plessis fit in time to belatedly start his tournament in Monday’s quick turnaround game – did lift their act quite appreciably from the ropey showing in the 2-0 mini-series loss to Australia just ahead of the ICC bash.

If they can crank it up even more, then an onward passage could still be manufactured.

T20 internationals are often won by teams for whom one particular individual simply takes a game away from the opposition: several South Africans threatened that, either with ball or bat on Saturday, without quite following through to land a knockout blow on the Subcontinent outfit.

That said, several vexing issues remain for the brains trust to chew on, and from a straight selection point of view, it is my belief that shortening the tail might represent the first constructive step ahead of the New Zealand meeting.

The obvious casualty, in order, to remedy that, should be a labouring Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who is the No 11 in a bottom end also comprising, from No 8, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir.

Conditions surprised a bit in Chittagong, with the pitch offering some grass and fair bounce and carry, so the decision by coach Russell Domingo and his fellow strategists to include him, in fairness, couldn’t really be castigated.

But the acid truth is that for the lanky left-arm seamer to properly aid the T20 cause, he has to bowl not just well but very well, as he is a liability both as a fielder and batsman.

Tsotsobe, in short, is not even managing the “well” part of late in this format: he is just not striking blows up front and over the course of three contests in a row this month has now been walloped for 71 runs in a mere seven overs  (wickets wise, he has one scalp in his last five T20 matches).

The sooner a broader cricketing package, in the shape of Wayne Parnell, is drafted in the better; he might have “bent” the ball a bit in the reportedly humid atmosphere and would have given the batting depth a sturdier look too – who knows, that might have made a critical different in the nail-biter?

Not too much other fiddling ought to be required at this point – there is no point in turning all knee-jerk yet – although Du Plessis would beef the specialist batting at the expense of Farhaan Behardien if he gets the medical green light.

Commentator Shaun Pollock made the valid point that Hashim Amla “hasn’t quite got his game-plan as sorted in T20 as he has in Tests and ODIs”, but the more pressing quandary, perhaps, remains where best to get maximum effectiveness out of AB de Villiers.

By the time he got to the crease at No 4, South Africa had already got a bit behind the eight-ball and he was forced to go hell-for-leather almost immediately: a slot higher still seems the most sensible stationing.

There is also the traditional concern of Albie Morkel’s medium-paced fare being too easily targeted: he went for a costly 24 runs in two short-lived overs on Saturday.

Much more pleasing was eternally animated leg-spinner Tahir doing exactly what it is desired he will do in the middle overs – take wickets.

All is not lost. Er, not quite yet.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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