ICC World Twenty20

Proteas must skirt India trap

2012-09-27 12:54
AB de Villiers (Gallo)
Cape Town – It is easier said than done, but South Africa would be well advised to try to ensure their qualification for the semi-finals of the ICC World Twenty20 before their last Super Eights match against India on Tuesday.

Theirs is controversially a four-strong “group of death” in the latest phase anyway, but perhaps the last thing that they need is to come up against the glamour side of the Subcontinent in their third and final Super Eights fixture, needing to win to ensure onward passage.

Ideally they will aim to knock over both Pakistan (traditionally troublesome foes to them in this event) on Friday, 12:00 SA time, and then Australia on Sunday to stave off the likelihood of a nerve-jangling, possible eliminator against MS Dhoni and company who bared ominous teeth in thrashing England by 90 runs a few days ago.

As this is also monsoon season in Sri Lanka – forecasts already suggest a 60% chance of rain for Friday’s Pakistan date in Colombo – reduced, lotto-like matches are an ever-present risk, so banking wins as quickly as possible in the Super Eights is doubly important.

Wherever they have played over the past few months, the Proteas have mostly shown the benefits of coach Gary Kirsten’s enlightened, humane “switch on, switch off” philosophy, where he creates environments to facilitate match-day intensity from his charges when it is most required and despite gruelling travel schedules.

Some might say it was less than ideal seeing AB de Villiers’s side waltz through the initial group stage largely unbothered by the opposition – they brushed aside Zimbabwe and then walloped host nation Sri Lanka in a seven-overs slug-out before going into idle mode for almost a week.

Kirsten promptly gave his charges a couple of days of holiday time, before returning to training for the Pakistan clash, but all the while he would have been mindful of the fact that several of his key weapons had also flown to the Spice Island straight off a full tour of England and would have relished any opportunity to clear their heads of cricket.

Senior personnel like De Villiers, Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn have become particularly good at knowing how to restore optimum service smartly after down time, and it also seems as if the Proteas have a clean bill of squad health going into the business end of the tournament.

The ICC will be anxious for the Super Eights to really catch fire: the event has a glaring anti-climax to many thus far, with what might almost be termed nine wasted, humdrum days of too stage-managed preliminary activity.

In 12 matches up to the Super Eights start (two matches kicked it off on Thursday), the closest margin of victory in runs terms has been 13, whilst in the wickets manner of triumph it has been seven – that is hardly edge-of-the-seat stuff in a format of the game supposedly tailor-made for tense finishes.

It also seems unjust that the tournament has been structured (cynics might prefer to say “fiddled”?) in such a way that Group 2 of the Super Eights features all the unbeaten teams from the earlier round, for their “sins”, and Group 1 the other quartet who have each sampled a loss already.

The Proteas’ group is certainly challenging, as reflected by veteran critic Geoffrey Boycott suggesting on Cricinfo on Thursday that “India and Pakistan, if they don’t cock it up, have great chances to win (the event) ... they’ve got better-quality batsmen (for the conditions) and a good array of spinners”.

Still, South African fans may rightly argue that our batting arsenal is not the shabbiest in the world either, whilst well-established slow bowlers like Robin Peterson and Johan Botha, getting better and better with experience, would be entitled to protest to Boycott: “How about us, then?”

South Africa’s Super Eights fixtures and TV channels:

1 SA v Pakistan, Colombo, Friday 12:00 SA time – SS2, CSN, SH2

2 SA v Australia, Colombo, Sunday 12:00 SA time – SS2, CSN, SH2

3 SA v India, Colombo, Tuesday 16:00 SA time – SS2, CSN, SH2

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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