Proteas set fair for Kiwis
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – A nervy moment or two in clinching their Super Eights passage, and that is a minor worry, but South Africa are in reasonable enough shape as they hurtle straight into next-phase ICC World Twenty20 battle against New Zealand in Bridgetown on Thursday (19:30 our time).
Gallery: Proteas v Afghanistan
For those Proteas supporters who shirked late-night patrol in front of their televisions: relax, Graeme Smith’s troops did dispose of Afghanistan with a good bit to spare to join India from their group in advancing to the Super Eights.
But there’s no rest for the wicked as they have little more than a night’s sleep and morning of contemplation before taking on the ever-dogged Kiwis at the same Kensington Oval venue where they blitzed the tournament newcomers out of the event.
The most positive thought for the Proteas is that this and then one more (against England on Saturday) of their three assignments in the next stage of the tournament will be in Barbados … and Smith himself rightly noted after the Afghanistan match that “it’s a bit like bowling at the Wanderers again”.
On a slightly less favourable note, considering that it is where they started the event on the back foot against India, the last Super Eights task for them is against Pakistan at the rather opposite-in-character Gros Islet in St Lucia on Monday.
But for the moment South African enthusiasts ought to have good reason to expect that the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, who basically bullied the cream of the Afghan batting order with their sheer pace and, in the latter’s case, spiteful “chin music”, will cause further problems for better-known players in the next two fixtures.
The pitch had a surprising amount of gusto and bounce, and the shock duo quickly left the minnows in absolute tatters at 14 for six and then 25 for seven in pursuit of 140 for a fairytale triumph.
Afghanistan only really staved off complete humiliation – the margin of defeat was 59 runs – with some happy-go-lucky hitting from a few of their tail-enders: it propelled them to a more respectable total of 80 all out in 16 overs.
And nobody was going to begrudge them that cheeky bit of defiance, because as much as their main batsmen were abjectly at sea against the sort of venomous fast bowling they would never before have experienced, their earlier effort in the field had been eye-opening in its confidence and even genuine skill at times.
It was probably the main reason Smith had the good grace to concede afterwards: “It was great to see the enthusiasm of Afghanistan … a fine lesson for all of us.”
They held some demanding catches, their spinners cleverly and often delightfully tied down some of the Proteas’ most accomplished batsmen in the middle phase of the innings, and the real mystery package to announce himself in some style was seamer Hamid Hassan.
The 22-year-old, only introduced as sixth bowler to the attack – so you could hardly have blamed some of the South African batsmen if they’d assumed he’d be a humdrum, inconsequential medium-pacer – turned out to be altogether more frisky than that.
He bowled a fullish, challenging length and was timed at an average speed of over 140km/h for his completed stint of 4-0-21-3, including one ball that clocked almost 144.
“I’ve not seen my speed before,” he said excitedly in a snap TV interview between innings, a statement that said a lot about the adverse circumstances from which these plucky cricketers come.
It was a satisfactory, if not wholly compelling day at the office, in the final analysis, for the South African “Goliath”.
I thought some of their batting was just a tad too frantic and helter-skelter, while several big names got “in” and then got out, which went a long way to explaining why the Proteas’ total didn’t reach the more secure 160 or 170 it probably should have.
Not that it mattered, once it became so clear Afghanistan were not going to test it in any meaningful way.
And the game did leave one or two selection issues to chew on – pretty quickly, by necessity – for the Super Eights assault.
Loots Bosman did himself no favours by running himself out for a duck, which might open the door to Herschelle Gibbs, while the jury may well remain out on the preference of Roelof van der Merwe as chief spinner to Johan Botha, who also offers better technical acumen with the blade.
At least Charl Langeveldt had a very sprightly comeback, although his success in the seam department was negated a little by Albie Morkel suffering the indignity of a 2-0-20-0 mini-walloping from the unfancied foes.
But the power-hitting left-hander is still very much needed in the lower middle-order of this line-up …