Sport

Cricket: De Villiers’ genius seals SA’s semi-final spot

By Antoinette Muller 31 March 2014

South Africa continued its “anti-choke” campaign at the World T20, thanks to a handy effort from Hashim Amla and stellar knock from AB de Villiers. The team is through to the semi-finals after beating England by three runs. ANTOINETTE MULLER picks five talking points from the match.

Another day, another tight win, and this time it’s catapulted South Africa into the semi-finals of the ICC World T20. A stupendous innings from AB de Villiers set the foundation and the bowlers, albeit still shakily, did the rest.

South Africa beat England by three runs on Saturday – their third win in a row, and the third win within a margin of six runs or less. Somehow, the Proteas have managed to find a way to carve something solid out of high-pressure situations, even with all their struggles. Their foray into the semi-finals was unexpected and, at times, unconvincing, but that will hardly matter. Stuart Broad’s men are sent home while South Africa will most likely face India in their semi-final.

Hashim Amla continued his adaptation to the format and Imran Tahir continued to be South Africa’s MVP. Somehow, South Africa has made it through to a knockout match and expectation will weigh heavily on them, but that’s a subject for a different day. Here are five talking points from South Africa’s win over England.

Three’s his number; just call him AB

AB de Villiers played one of the most mesmerising T20 knocks in recent history. Finally getting a chance to bat at number three, thanks to Faf du Plessis being suspended, De Villiers not only timed his acceleration, he assaulted conventional strokeplay. No matter where bowlers bowled or which field they set, De Villiers found a way to counter it. The stand-in skipper scored 69 off just 28 deliveries, but that only tells half the story. Of the first 14 balls he faced, De Villiers scored just 21 runs and then added 28 off the last 14, a masterclass in adaptation. His struggles in the shortest format of the game, many believe, are down to his batting position. With Du Plessis now returning for the semi-final, the big question is: where will De Villiers bat next? Logic dictates that three is his spot, but logic, when it comes to the batting order, hasn’t been part of this team’s modus operandi.

Dew, my dear

South Africa played its first night game of the tournament and managed to come out trumps in very difficult conditions. That kind of adapting only adds to the accomplishment. A dewy outfield made it difficult for the bowlers and it showed. They conceded 15 extras and, although the no ball that was given should not have been a no ball, South Africa can take a lot of heart from their ability to adapt quickly, because they will need to do so again very soon. Both semi-finals are night games and both will be played in Dhaka – a ground where South Africa has not played yet. Dhaka has been more spin friendly, something the seamers haven’t quite experienced yet. With the added pressure of knock-out expectations comes the need for quick adjustment once again.

The return of Wayne Parnell

Wayne Parnell got his first run in the tournament, coming in to replace Lonwabo Tsotsobe. De Villiers suggested Parnell would most likely be the man of the hour now that crunch time is around the corner, and that can only be a good thing. Parnell bagged three wickets against England and was pushing the 144km/h mark constantly. While Tsotsobe does offer a left-arm variation like Parnell, he only offers medium pace. Parnell can be inconsistent, and despite getting a wicket with a full toss and a full ball outside off, the left-armer thrives when the pressure is on. South Africa might opt to bring Tsotsobe back for youngster Beuran Hendricks. Hendricks, although outstanding in South Africa’s domestic competition, has struggled to fulfil his potential in this tournament. That’s simply down to inexperience. He has never before played at this level or in conditions quite as unforgiving to seamers as the subcontinent. Perfecting the balance is something team management will have to think long and hard over for their knock-out clash.

The Aaron Phangiso conundrum

Why exactly Aaron Phangiso is in the side is yet to be seen. The T20 format is ideal for spinners – nine out of the top ten bowlers in the format, in fact, are spinners. Aaron Phangiso might not spin the ball, but he is handy when it comes to taking wickets. His omission against England was understandable, to an extent. When conditions are wet and it’s difficult to grip, Phangiso would have had a reasonably tough time. He has never played outside of South Africa and his inexperience might be holding him back. However, why bother taking him on tour in the first place? He is no mug with the bat and can prop up the lower order with a little bit of smack-bang batting if needed. With Dhaka being more spinner-friendly, South Africa could well be tempted to drop the underperforming Albie Morkel and bolster the spin department to help Imran Tahir. It would be a big adjustment in a crunch match and probably too progressive for a side that has found a team combination to perfect the “anti-choke”.

The theme of the anti-choke

For all intents and purposes, the game against England was a knockout. South Africa has somehow found a way to ensure they get over the line in a crunch situation. In the euphoria of the win over England, it might have been overlooked that the result was too close for comfort. While there were no foolish fielding faux pas, there were too many expensive overs and a couple of silly dismissals. Yet, somehow, South Africa got over the line again. Some will say they are riding their luck, and why shouldn’t they? When Lady Luck is singing for you, enjoy the song. However, it’s reached that stage where a beady eye will be kept on how the team holds its nerve in an official knock-out clash. Even if South Africa goes out swinging, the sword will still be hanging over their heads.

Scorecard summary

South Africa 196-5 (AB de Villiers 69 (28); Ravi Bopara 4-0-33-1)

England 193-7 (Alex Hales 38 (22); Wayne Parnell 4-0-31-3)

South Africa won by three runs. DM

Photo: South Africa’s AB de Villiers (L) and Hashim Amla (R) together during the ICC World Cup cricket match, Netherlands v South Africa, at the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) Stadium, in Mohali, India, 03 March 2011. EPA/HARISH TYAGI

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