Beyond all expectation, South Africa has managed to squeeze its way into the semi-final of the ICC World T20. A loss and three very tight wins saw the team finish second in its group, which means the players have to face an indomitable Indian side. India is unbeaten in the tournament and has looked like the trophy is its to lose.
It goes without saying that South Africa’s history in ICC knock-out matches is poor. The team hasn’t won one since 1998, when they won the first edition of the Champions Trophy. However, they have managed to claw themselves out of immensely tight situations in this tournament thus far, despite many struggles. Yes, there have been signs of brainless running and everything else. Yes, there have been whispers of the c-word tag here and there. But they have not succumbed.
“Absorb and transfer the pressure” is a philosophy Gary Kirsten installed in the Test team, and some of that has started to filter through to the limited overs teams. South Africa has a chance to show just how much of that has sunk in, if the weather plays along. Here are five key battles for the semi-final between South Africa and India.
AB de Villiers vs. overs on the board
AB de Villiers managed a tremendous knock against England – notching up 69 off 28 balls. It’s not a spot he occupies regularly and he only batted there because skipper Faf du Plessis was suspended. The question now is: where does De Villiers slot in for the semi-final? Logic dictates that he is best suited at number three. In T20, you want your best batsman facing as many deliveries as possible. De Villiers said after the England game that management wanted him to “come in after 10 overs”. That has been the case throughout the tournament so far and will most likely be the same way again for the semi-final. De Villiers’ performance against England was actually an anomaly, because he hasn’t been that great in T20s. He has batted at number three 15 times in T20is and averages just 17.42 there. In fourth, where he has batted 27 times, his average is higher than his overall average – 27.80 compared to 22.65. Far more important than De Villiers’ position in the side is how the batsmen before him perform. If the top order set a solid base, it becomes a far easier task, provided he doesn’t try to get too flash.
Adjusting to the new conditions
South Africa hasn’t played in Dhaka; India has. South Africa has also played under lights just once. The pitch in Dhaka has been turning square for much of the tournament and the dew factor has made for some comical fielding fails – something the Proteas haven’t had much time to practice. Their game against England was their first one under lights for the tournament and they adjusted aptly, but with rain lingering about, a new pitch to play to and the lights being a factor, adjusting can be tricky, especially for the less experienced players. If the first semi-final between the Windies and Sri Lanka is anything to go by, though, dew won’t be as big of an issue at the ground. By the time the two teams started playing, the ground was still bone dry.
The back-up bowlers vs. India’s batting powerhouse
India have two players who have scored 100 runs or more in this tournament. Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma have both been pretty handy, with both notching up two half-centuries each. They have both been consistent and are both very much used to playing in Dhaka now. For South Africa’s young bowlers, this is a problem. Imran Tahir and Dale Steyn have been superb, but the rest of the bowlers have been disappointing. Wayne Parnell played his first match against England and impressed with figures of three for 31, and is unlikely to drop out since he also offers something with the bat. However, it’s the rest of the bowling line-up that will struggle. Beuran Hendricks hasn’t quite gotten the hang of international cricket just yet, Lonwabo Tstosbe averages over 100.00 and both Morkels have been well below their best. With the form India’s top order is in, things could get messy.
South Africa vs. India’s spin threat
Not only do they have a batting powerhouse, India also have some incredible spinners. Ravi Ashwin and Amit Mishra have taken 16 wickets between them, taking a wicket once every 13 and once every 10 balls respectively. South Africa aren’t woeful against spin – they have players who know to deal with it; however, they haven’t really been up against proper tweakers this tournament. The only side who had a similar spin threat is Sri Lanka and South Africa lost to them in their opening clash. In that match, South Africa scored 66 out of their 160 runs against the spinners. Those runs came off 48 deliveries from the spinners, but it was on a pitch that had a touch more grass on it than the Dhaka track.
Cricket against the weather
There is a chance of a thunderstorm for the semi-final. Weather has been somewhat unpredictable in Bangladesh, but rain is likely to intervene. The good news is that only five overs per side are needed for a game. The bad news is that Duckworth-Lewis in T20s is brutal and whoever bats second will get the short end of the stick if it intervenes. If the game is called off entirely, India will progress since they topped the group and there is no reserve day in place for the semi-final. DM
Photo: South Africa’s AB de Villiers plays a shot bowled by Pakistan’s Wahab Riaz during their final one-day international (ODI) cricket match in Benoni March 24, 2013. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
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Tigers cannot purr.