Rob Houwing

Proteas two games from glory

2014-03-31 07:28
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)

Cape Town – Good omens are stacking up quite nicely for South Africa as they advance to a Dhaka semi-final of the ICC World Twenty20 on either Thursday or Friday next week.

As it happened: SA v England

Thanks to a three-run triumph over England in their final group match at a murderously sticky Chittagong on Saturday – they had the game in the bag a bit more convincingly than the eventual margin suggests – the Proteas have already assured themselves of equalling, at the very least, their best previous showing in this event.

Just by getting to a semi, which may well end up being against India if certain remaining results elsewhere tee that up, they have reached that stage for only the second time in five tournaments.

They looked a much more convincing collective in 2009, when they powered their way through the preliminary phases in England, only to be beaten by eventual champions Pakistan in a last-four encounter at Trent Bridge.

Here South Africa, led twice each thus far by Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers, have produced rather more chequered efforts, mostly marked by sublime individual performances – the latest key one came from De Villiers, whose scorching 28-ball innings of 69 not out “took the game away from us”, as rueful England captain Stuart Broad pointed out after a high-scoring thriller.

Primary crowd-puller De Villiers, at long last, was given the No 3 berth, for just the 15th time in his 53 T20 knocks for his country, and only underlined the wisdom of the team strategists finally seeing the light in that regard.

This was not his highest score in the format, although his best landmark of 79 had come against minnows Scotland a few years back and this contribution deserves to go down as his most influential and devastating yet in T20 internationals.

Another happy development was Hashim Amla (56) finally getting to the half-century mark after 24 previous innings in the arena and falling short of the mark in the forties an irksome five times.

The bearded opener, considered “not geared” for the shortest brand of the game by some misguided critics just a few days back, is getting into the groove more and more at this tournament, as evidenced by bigger knocks every time he takes to the crease in Bangladesh: in order, his innings have been 23, 41, 43 and 56.

One of the promising omens for South Africa, who will have Du Plessis back in their ranks for the semi after his suspension for Saturday’s game, is that the World T20 has always been won by different teams ... is this possibly going to be their turn for a maiden trophy-hoist?

India won the inaugural event in South Africa in 2007, and since then the champions have been Pakistan (2009), England (2010) and West Indies (2012).

But there is another reason to suspect that the planets may just be finally aligning themselves for a Proteas triumph at an ICC global limited-overs get-together.

The only tournament of that kind they have previously won, the first Champions Trophy in 1998 (though known as the ICC Knockout for its first two stagings) had come in the very country this one is being staged in.

Led by the late Hansie Cronje, they beat West Indies by four wickets in the Dhaka final, and since then there has only been ICC drought for long-suffering SA enthusiasts.

Many of those failures have come in tournaments when the Proteas have either been strongly fancied anyway or fallen at high-pressure, late hurdles in them.

They were always relative underdogs going into the latest one, and perhaps that goes some way to explaining why keeping their nerve has been a pleasing feature of their play thus far – they did not arrive overly burdened with expectation.

Even after thoroughly deserving their victory over England (which was effectively a quarter-final, so they ticked another temperament-related box) room for improvement as a unit remains.

The next game – ideally next two, of course – would be a timely, inviting occasion for that to occur; they are in slightly unexpected breathing distance of tournament glory.

A minor concern was that all-rounder Albie Morkel dislocated the index finger of his right hand in taking a catch on Saturday, which will probably rule out a bowling role if he keeps his place for the semi-final.

Counter-balancing that was another all-rounder, Wayne Parnell, making his return to duty with bowling aplomb.

Parnell kept up his reputation for bowling some “gem” deliveries that thoroughly warrant wickets but don’t always get them ... and sending down some indifferent ones that do!

He also helps to give the team as a whole a greater element of sprightliness in the field, now that struggling, lumbering Lonwabo Tsotsobe has been rightly sidelined for the time being.

Promisingly, several things are fitting together now for these Proteas ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  icc world twenty20  |  cricket

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