Qualification: The Proteas' mathematical mountain
South Africans will have to cross their hearts, cheer for Australia and then hope for a thumping win over India if they hope to progress to the semi-finals of the ICC World T20. Tuesday looks set to be one epic day of T20 cricket, if the rain stays away. By ANT SIMS.
The Proteas and mathematics aren’t really friends – when it comes to calculating stuff, they usually end up on the wrong side of the Duckworth-Lewis method. The bad news for South Africa is that they need some serious calculations, and another result to go their way, if they have any hope left of qualifying for the semi-finals of the World T20.
Thanks to their performance – or lack thereof – in the Super Eights thus far, South Africa find themselves in a bit of a pickle. In order to qualify for the straight knock out stages of the competition, they need Australia to beat Pakistan and then need to beat India by a significant margin. It’s a margin that involves a whole lot of calculations and numbers – too many numbers to cram into coherent sentences.
If Australia beat Pakistan, South Africa will have to up their net-run rate with a thumping over India – to work out exactly by how much, Michael Wagener from The Cricket Geek has put together a handy spreadsheet calculator to work out the different scenarios.
The last time the Proteas played India in a T20 was earlier this year in the annual, one-off T20, of which nobody really knows the significance. For a change, South Africa managed to win on Duckworth-Lewis, after Jacques Kallis had a blinder with the bat, hitting 61 off 42 while Colin Ingram smacked 78 off 50. Despite the Indian openers getting off to a good start on that day, they were behind on the run-rate by the time the rain came down and brought a halt to proceedings. Previous results are of little significance, though, and while India probably holds the upper hand in terms of familiarity with the conditions, both teams have been somewhat up and down in their performances of late.
South Africa has some tough calls to make ahead of the must-win game. The first is whether to persist with Richard Levi who, since scoring his record-breaking 117 runs in New Zealand, has only managed 101 in nine matches. The easiest solution is to opt for a straight swap with Faf du Plessis. Du Plessis is looking equally out of form, though, but he has always batted lower down the order and could have a significant impact opening the batting – a role which he relished in the IPL earlier this year and one which he now prefers.
South Africa’s other dilemma is which bowling combination to use. Despite his exploits in T20 cricket all around the world, Albie Morkel has struggled on the international stage and Wayne Parnell looked equally fragile when he was trialled against Australia on Sunday. This leaves them with one more wild card: Lonwabo Tsotsobe. The downside to selecting Tsostobe means the lower-order pinch hitter is eliminated from the equation. Morkel and Parnell can both swing the bat if needs be, and while they’ve not done so yet, opting for an extra bowler who can bat a bit might trump going for an extra bowler who personifies a number eleven.
AB de Villiers, however, will have to back his slower bowlers to do the job for him. He showed some sparks of captaincy genius during his stint in England, especially with field placings, but the South African skipper has not quite got things right at the ICC World T20. Whether the pressures of keeping wickets in all formats of the game and captaining in two of them is finally getting to South Africa’s golden boy, or whether De Villiers is simply tired from being on the road for a very long time, nobody really knows, but if there were ever a time for South Africa to show the ability to bounce back, it’s on Tuesday against India.
Neutralising Virat Kohli will be the key. The best way to do that seems to be to get Kohli caught. Out of the 15 T20s he has played, he's only been out 11 times and 10 of those were caught. Overall, he's been caught out 61 times. Kohli is aggressive and while he does possess a magnificent talent to place the ball through the right gaps and time it to perfection, any player in a pressure situation can be outfoxed and the Proteas will have to have all their ducks in a row in order to ensure they have a plan A, B, C and D to get rid of India’s VIP.
Equally important for the Proteas is how they approach the spinners. While the tracks on the subcontinent haven’t really offered that much turn, they have been quite slow, and India’s slower bowlers have had some good days at the office. They are, however, not unplayable or mysterious, and the Proteas will have to guard against a mental block shutting down their ability to adapt to conditions.
It’s a tricky match for the South Africans, and whether it’s a must-win game to progress or not is irrelevant. It’s a must-win game either way, not just to hush the nay-sayers, but for their own mental well-being. DM
Photo: Pakistan's Umar Akmal and Saeed Ajmal (L) celebrate after winning the ICC World Twenty20 Super 8 cricket match as South Africa's AB de Villiers takes off his cap at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo September 28, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown