Proteas on the back foot after a porous stick in T20 Wo …
South Africa’s five-wicket loss to Australia in their opener of the T20 World Cup was ultimately a thriller, but revealed the team’s imbalance and hitting porosity.
The five-wicket loss has already put the Proteas in a precarious position in a squad that includes one-day international world champions England, defending champions West Indies, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
South African bowling was good and their recently maligned roster excellent, which gave them an unlikely sniff of victory despite defending a meager 118.
In the end, it wasn’t enough, but it took the Australians until the fourth ball of the final to hit the winning points. The only real surprise was that it took as long as it took Australia to confirm the win after the Proteas’ stick withered, but it was testament to an excellent performance on the pitch.
Kagiso Rabada and Aiden Markram had some wonderful deep catches while the former also had three superb overs at the start of the Australian chase. Tabraiz Shamsi’s wrist rotation was economical and delicate (1-22 over his four overs) and Anrich Nortje’s frantic pace caused problems (2-21).
Shamsi became the third Proteas player after Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir to take 50 T2oI wickets. South Africa’s bowling attack could take them far, but the men with the willow will have to step in or this campaign will end in tears – again.
“Shamsi has been a huge player for us lately,” captain Temba Bavuma said after the game.
“It’s no accident that he’s the No. 1 T20 bowler in the world, and we rely on him a lot in our offense in terms of taking wickets and controlling the middle stage and today he did exactly that.
“It’s an offensive option for us, and I think a good foil with Keshav [Maharaj]. ”
But with almost no points on the board, it was still an impossible task for the bowlers to defend the score. And that begs the question of how this team can go deep into the tournament without consistent hitting performance. The answer is obvious – they cannot, unless there is vast and immediate improvement.
The fact that Australia only beat a paltry 119 for the final victory over South Africa underscored competitiveness and the ability to fight, but that doesn’t mask the hitters’ fragile weaknesses.
Coach Mark Boucher bet on six specialty hitters at the top of the order and only Markram delivered, with 40 of 36 balls. David Miller was second best with 16 and Bavuma scored 12. In contrast, the Australian batting unit almost all contributed to the pursuit, admittedly, on a short run.
The Proteas T20 form has been good for the tournament, but it’s the most pressure they’ve taken since the World Cup at 50 over two years ago, and the batters haven’t responded.
“The guys prepared themselves pretty well to try and deal with the mental pressures,” Bavuma said after the game. “I don’t remember a time when our staff collapsed like that. It’s not everyday when your top seven, bar Aiden [Markram], all fail. It was a matter of execution.
“A total of 118 was definitely not a normal score. Anything around 150-160 would have been competitive.
“We went for the extra batter option, but that obviously didn’t help our cause. We expected the box office to be good, which is why we opted for the extra dough.
“I thought the bowlers were playing pretty well. There is no one I can fault bowling alley today. So if you pick six hitters with a total of seven and score 118, then I don’t think you can exactly blame the shot.
“I think from a batting perspective we know there is a lot we could have done and we will be looking to correct our mistakes in the next game.
“We always talk about ourselves being resilient and there were opportunities. It was a big effort from the guys to get us to last place. We didn’t have enough with the bat and it was always going to be tough for the bowlers.
“Australia played well. They assessed the length well and hit that back a length. Their spinners also played tight. Aiden held up the heats and got us a decent total. Even though it was a day that didn’t go as planned, we can take some bright spots. We showed the fight. We spoke during the half that we will not give up.
With just two teams from each group advancing to the semi-finals, Australia, England and Sri Lanka, who won their opening matches in Group 1, are the fastest at the start. The Proteas are already on the back foot, one game in the tournament.
South Africa’s clash against the West Indies on Tuesday already feels like a knockout clash for both teams as a second loss will almost certainly leave too much to do to advance to the semi-finals.
This fight will be vital to staying alive in the tournament, but it will need to be supported by skill and execution, especially on the part of the batting unit. DM