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Hard-fought victories will stand the Proteas in good stead as crunch matches approach

Hard-fought victories will stand the Proteas in good stead as crunch matches approach
Keshav Maharaj of the Proeas celebrates with teammates after dismissing Litton Das of Bangladesh during the T20 Cricket World Cup at Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York. 10 June 2024. (Photo: Robert Cianflone / Getty Images)

The Proteas have qualified for the Super Eights of the T20 World Cup after three tight victories with their best still to come.

The Proteas have found a way to win, with their backs to the wall, in tough conditions in the T20 World Cup thus far.

South Africa currently top group D after three wins from three matches while all of their victories have been hard-fought. However, the tight wins will hold the side in good stead as the crunch period of the tournament approaches.

In their opening match, South Africa beat Sri Lanka by six wickets after bowling them out for 77 before scraping past the Netherlands by four wickets while chasing 104 and then beating Bangladesh by only four runs on Monday — all three matches were played on the tough, two-paced and variable batting wicket at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Proteas scrape past Bangladesh in a low-scoring T20 World Cup thriller

Bangladesh were coasting to South Africa’s slightly below total of 113 on Monday before a brave and ingenious piece of captaincy by Aiden Markram and fine execution by his bowlers won the game for South Africa.

Bangladesh needed 21 runs off the final three overs with one over each from Kagiso Rabada, Ottneil Baartman and Keshav Maharaj left to bowl.

With the knowledge that pace bowling was more difficult to hit on the Nassau County field with its tacky surface and long square boundaries, Markram opted to give Rabada the 18th over and Baartman the penultimate 19th.

It was a courageous decision, meaning the final over of the innings went to the slow left-arm spin of Maharaj. But it worked as Rabada and Baartman did their part and left Maharaj to defend 11 runs.

And despite bowling three full tosses, Maharaj picked up two wickets and only conceded six runs to guide South Africa to their third win.

“There is a small margin for error, but I’ll take it,” Maharaj said about not executing perfectly but doing enough for South Africa to win. “I was just trying to hit the low end of the bat.

“Luckily enough it played in my favour.”

Keshav Maharaj, Proteas

Keshav Maharaj of the Proteas during the T20 Cricket World Cup at Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York. 3 June 2024. (Photo: Robert Cianflone / Getty Images)

Learning from the past

After electing to bat first, South Africa fell to 25 for the loss of four wickets before a brilliant David Miller and Heinrich Klaasen fifth wicket partnership helped the team to 113 for six after 20 overs.

It’s the second consecutive match the team had to be rescued from a top-order collapse. Against the Netherlands, South Africa found themselves staring down the barrel at 12 for the loss of four wickets in the fifth over.

Miller again rescued the innings, striking the team’s only half-century of the tournament so far to help the Proteas reach 106 for six in the second last over, enough to chase the Dutch’s 103.

Across the Proteas’ last two unsuccessful white-ball World Cup campaigns in 2023 and 2022, they lost to the Dutch in close thrillers. This time around, South Africa have been able to ensure they are on the right side of the close result.

“From our team perspective, we’ve been in these situations in these types of tournaments where we haven’t crossed over the line,” Maharaj said.

“It’s good to see the character come out in the various games.

“Obviously the first two games were very low scoring and we caused ourselves a few issues up front, but we still found a way. That’s encouraging to see from our team perspective.

“The games in general are going down to the wire which is a brilliant advert for cricket. We’re so used to seeing batters score 200 so now it’s the bowlers’ skill against the batters’ skill.”

Heinrich Klaasen of the Proteas

Heinrich Klaasen of the Proteas plays a shot as Litton Das of Bangladesh keeps during the ICC Men’s T20 Cricket World Cup at Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in New York. 10 June 2024. (Photo: Robert Cianflone / Getty Images)

Finishing strong

After Monday’s result, South Africa have officially qualified for the Super Eight stage of the tournament, with one match in hand against Nepal on Saturday.

They won’t play another match in New York, with their fixture against Nepal scheduled at the Arnos Vale Stadium in St Vincent and the Grenadines while the Super Eights will also take place in the West Indies.

But the lessons learned in the US after three tight matches will ensure the Proteas’ belief and confidence is up despite it not being a good advertisement for new fans in the country, according to Klaasen who scored 46 runs off 44 deliveries against Bangladesh.

“It’s still good cricket for the cricket lovers out there,” Monday’s player of the match said.

“Obviously if you have to showcase it to the world and sell it, I don’t think it’s a great product to sell [to new fans].

“It’s tight competition, it brings the other teams and the [better] teams very close to each other and the game is open to any team to win that does the basics of cricket well,” he said about the conditions in New York.

“For us, it’s very nerve-wracking because every game becomes a really big game. There’s no easy games for us, especially in our group.

“It’s still good, entertaining cricket. Everyone is on the edge of their seat and any team can beat any team on the day on this field.”

The Proteas have proven that they can win the low-scoring tight thrillers in tough conditions against determined opponents.

The rest of the matches are expected to be on wickets that are more batter friendly — which suits their dangerous batting lineup that has not quite fired to its potential yet in the tournament. DM

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