Short, sweet, intriguing

2014-04-05 00:00

LAST Saturday, like many other South Africans, I found myself watching two gripping contests at the same time, namely the Bulls rugby match against the Chiefs and the T20 game between the Proteas and England.

Eventually I gave in to the dark looks from my long suffering wife and stuck with the cricket. We taped the second half of the rugby, which we subsequently watched at our leisure and were thus able to enjoy the end of an enthralling contest without worrying that we were missing some vital moments of the cricket.

For someone who has repeatedly downplayed the importance and spectacle of T20 cricket I have to say that on this occasion I found it to be more exciting than a Super Rugby match that ended in a dramatic high-scoring draw. I suspect that those people who have only watched the nail-biting T20 matches featuring the Proteas during this ICC tournament will need some convincing that this is not the cricket of the future.

The reality, however, is that most of the matches have been one-sided with the result of the game certain well before the three-quarter mark.

India, for example have reached the semi-finals without raising either their own sweat or the heart beats of their supporters. Meanwhile in the same pool my fancied Australians disappeared without a trace.

Their Antipodean cousins had a close encounter with the Proteas which they should have won but failed dismally with the bat in their virtual quarter-final against the Sri Lankans. The problem with the T20 game is that it is rare for a team to recover from a dismal start with the bat when in pursuit of a target in excess of 150 runs. England were able to do so in their match against Sri Lanka thanks to the innings of the tournament by Alex Hale, which illustrated the importance, in this form of the game, for a batsman who gets in to make sure he goes the full distance.

By the time this article appears we will know which, if any, of the South Africans put this important lesson into practice in the semi-final against India.

Thus far only JP Duminy and AB de Villiers have played genuine match-winning innings. Hashim Amla has contributed several valuable contributions but the rest of the batsmen have failed to fire. Quinton de Kock looked a little more comfortable in his last innings against England but one fears that he will be up against it when confronted by the Indian spinners in conditions favorable and familiar to them.

Faf du Plessis, who has only played in two matches, will be anxious to show that he is worth a place in the team. He is a batsman who likes to take his time playing himself in but he may find that he uses up too many balls against spinners who are rushing through their overs. His record in the IPL does not inspire confidence that he will be the man to see his side to a big total against the Indians.

David Miller has been disappointing throughout this ICC T20 competition. It seems to me that this game is too short for a hitter such as Miller who likes to take his time getting the feel of the pitch and the bowlers.

His weakness is that he seems unable to rotate the strike when he first gets to the crease. He uses up an alarming number of balls without scoring any runs. This has the effect of ramping up the pressure both on himself and his fellow batsman. He needs to develop the skill to ease the ball away for singles before launching himself at the bowlers.

One is tempted to predict that South Africa’s journey through this T20 world cup will come to an end unless De Villiers and Duminy can get stuck into the Indian spinners after Amla, who is our best player of slow bowling, has laid a decent platform for them. If these three can perform on the night and stifle the threat of India’s two mystery spinners, Amit Misra and Ravichandran Ashwin, the Proteas have a chance of getting through to the final.

Otherwise, my guess is that we will not score enough runs to trouble the Indians. There is a story that the Indian team has been unsettled by allegations that six of their international players will soon be brought to book for spot-fixing incidents in the Indian Premier League. An envelope with the names of the accused half dozen is said to be floating round the Indian judicial system. If this is true one can only say that the Indian team have hitherto looked remarkably untroubled.

Their batsmen have looked in good enough form to see off the threats posed by Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir and then go after the other bowlers. The South Africans have the disadvantage of having played none of their matches at Dhaka where the Indians have played all their games. Semi-finals, however, have their own particular pressures as South Africans know only too well.

The Indians strolled through to these semis in contrast to the South Africans, all of whose matches were decided by fewer than 10 runs. This may not be to the Indians’ advantage. It can often suit a team to have a feel for winning tight matches, particularly in T20 cricket, where the result can turn on the outcome of a few balls delivered at a critical time. The South Africans lost the only match where they batted first. Will this pattern be held or broken in this match? How much difference did the toss make?

We know that the other finalist will be the only team who have beaten South Africa at this T20 World Cup but that was on a pitch that probably suited the Sri Lankans. The margin then was just five runs despite a poor performance from the Proteas’ major batsmen. This gives hope that a doable task awaits the South Africans if they have dealt with the Indians.

The eventual demise of the West Indies meant that none of my fancied teams reached the final of cricket’s shortest world cup. If, as I fear, the Indians have prevailed against the Proteas, it will mean, once again, that the knowledge and experience of subcontinent conditions have trumped all other considerations.

If I am wrong, the Proteas have their best chance of breaking South African cricket’s world cup duck.

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