Proteas batters begin stepping up to the T20I party
South Africa’s T20I form has been exceptional since Temba Bavuma has taken the reins, boasting 13 wins from their last 14 matches.
The Proteas bowlers have been the driving force throughout this time with the batting department only scoring over 170 on two occasions prior to their tour of India. The first occasion was when they set Ireland 189 to win in the final match of their three-match tour last year July.
The other was when the potential of the T20I batting unit showed itself for the first time. In the Proteas’ final group stage game at the T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last year, they needed to thump white-ball titans England in order to reach the semi-final stage of the tournament on net run rate.
An incredible 103-run partnership between Aiden Markram (52 not out off 25 balls) and Rassie van der Dussen (94 not out off 60 balls) on the sluggish UAE pitches helped South Africa set 189 and ultimately beat England by 10 runs.
The victory was not large enough to secure a semi-final berth but it did provide a glimpse of what the budding batting line-up could achieve.
With two of South Africa’s in-form T20 batters in Markram — out through Covid in the first two matches — and Quinton de Kock out in the second — through a hand injury — the writing may have looked on the wall against a strong Indian team playing at home.
However, in the tour to India so far, one of the leading T20I teams in the world — albeit missing a few of their star players — the Proteas team is once more proving that they have the potential to challenge against the best on the batting front.
The first two matches of the five-game series have been wildly different. The first was a high-scoring affair played on a flat, small playing surface, while the second was played on a testing wicket.
The natural ebb and flow of T20I cricket produced a few wobbles in both of South Africa’s successful run chases, however, the promising feature is that they ultimately cruised home on both occasions.
In the opening match on Thursday, India set a commanding total of 211 at a relatively small Arun Jaitley Stadium in New Delhi and South Africa needed their batters to come to the party.
And come to the party they did, recording their highest ever T20I chase as they won by seven wickets with five deliveries still remaining.
The chase was led by an excellent 131-run (64 ball) partnership by Van der Dussen and IPL winner David Miller. Van der Dussen led the chase with an unbeaten 75 off 46 deliveries while Miller struck a rapid unbeaten 64 off 31 deliveries.
Van der Dussen had a torrid time in the recently concluded IPL, playing only three matches and scoring a cumulative 22 runs at a strike rate of 91.67.
For long periods of the Proteas chase, it looked like his bad form would continue but the unwavering batter eventually got in his stride.
“It took a while to get used to the conditions and get the pace of the wicket. I was a bit slow, about 30 off 30 balls but I always knew if I can get one or two away that the momentum would shift,” said Van der Dussen after the first T20I.
“I supposed the lesson just to trust in the game plan and have a clear mind regardless of what your score and balls faced is. We knew if David and I were there at the end that we would probably get close and probably get us over the line.”
The innings was, however, given impetus by an underrated 13-ball 29 run cameo by Dwaine Pretorius who was sent in as a pinch hitter at the No 3 position during the powerplay.
It may have been a surprise decision to most, but coupled with the Proteas playing with a batter light due to Markram’s unforeseen illness and Pretorius’ domestic experience coming in during the powerplay with regularity for the North West Dragons, it was a move that made sense.
Van der Dussen eventually reverse swept Yuzvendra Chahal for his seventh four of the innings to seal the match in fine style and ensure the Proteas take an early lead in the five-match series.
Batters standing up
In the second match, on Sunday, on a tricky wicket that produced some variable bounce in the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack, chasing 149 for victory, the Proteas needed their batters to play in a more composed fashion compared to the guns-blazing style of the game before.
With De Kock injured, Heinrich Klaasen came into the side to keep wicket and bat at No 5. It was the steely right-hander who guided the Proteas chase scoring an incredible career-best 81 off 46 deliveries, including five monstrous sixes.
Klaasen’s terrific knock serves as reassurance that not only is South Africa’s batting department vastly improved but so is their strength in depth.
Klaasen was ably supported by captain Bavuma (35) who provided a calming presence when the Proteas were restricted to 29 for three after the powerplay.
Miller played the finishing role once again, knocking a Shreyas Iyer delivery onto the legside for two runs — as he scored an unbeaten 20 off 15 deliveries — sealing a four-wicket win with 10 deliveries to spare.
The runs have been spread out amongst batters so far in the series which only bodes well for the Proteas with most of their batters getting valuable time in the middle.
Waiting in the wings
Reeza Hendricks might have felt unlikely to have missed out on the opening match, considering his recent form in the four-match T20 series for South Africa ‘A’ against Zimbabwe XI where he scored 194 runs, including a top score of 101 not out.
However, with De Kock out through injury, the elegant stroke maker received his opportunity in Cuttack, dismissed by a beautiful inswinger by Bhuvneshwar Kumar for four runs.
The exciting Tristan Stubbs made his T20I debut for the Proteas on Thursday in New Delhi and while he did not get an opportunity to bat and showcase his prodigious talent, the potential is there for him to become the finisher South Africa has been searching for.
The 21-year-old sat out on Sunday to allow for the eventual match-winner, Klaasen, to take the gloves.
Stubbs has been in thunderous form domestically and will hope to have the opportunity to prove himself at some stage against India with one eye on securing his ticket to the World Cup.
Barring injury, skipper Bavuma and de Kock are the current opening pair for the foreseeable future. The two complement each other well and will look to reaffirm their status as the ideal set in the rest of the five-match series against India.
Despite Pretorius deputising well so far in India, Markram is the incumbent for the No 3 role where he boasts an average of 69.5 in the three innings he has played there.
The irrepressible Van der Dussen, who became the tied quickest Proteas batter to reach 1000 T20I runs (32 innings) in the first T20I on Thursday, will slot in at his favoured No 4 position.
There has been debate recently about what Miller’s best position is. On Thursday he came in at No 5, where he mostly batted in the recently concluded IPL season, helping his Gujarat Titans team to the title. While on Sunday, with three wickets falling early, Miller came in a bit later at No 6.
It seems that Miller’s position is not fixed at this point but rather dictated by the match situation. Thus far in the series, this ploy has worked successfully.
“David, we can use him at five or six. Him obviously being a left-hander, it helps in the end,” said captain Bavuma after the second T20I.
Throughout this time, the bowling department just keeps getting better, boasting a well-balanced attack covering all bases. The consistent leader, Kagiso Rabada alongside the electric Anrich Nortje often took the new ball to outstanding effect.
The number one ranked T20I bowler Tabraiz Shamsi usually striking with regularity in the middle overs with his left arm unorthodox bowling while Keshav Maharaj builds pressure with his excellent control.
Pretorius has come into his own as the Proteas’ go-to death bowler since the T20 World Cup last year in the United Arab Emirates.
Meanwhile, a more mature version of Wayne Parnell has returned to national colours to outstanding effect thus far, providing the Proteas with a left-arm swing bowling option, while the dependable Lungi Ngidi — who boasts a T20I bowling average of under 20 — waits in the wings.
With an eye on the T20I World Cup later this year, the competition for spots is heating up to challenge for that elusive international trophy. DM
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