Proteas must embrace pressure

Sport24 columnist Pat Symcox (File)
Sport24 columnist Pat Symcox (File)
At the start of the tournament, while the Proteas would have privately set their sights on winning the trophy, to be blunt few would have offered them more than an outside chance at best.

The above would not have been owing to South Africa’s lack of ability but rather due to their erratic past performances in the game’s shortest format.

Now all of a sudden, the Proteas find themselves two wins away from breaking their World Cup duck. I believe that even the most die-hard fans will battle to comprehend just how close that feat is.

As the tournament in Bangladesh has unfolded for the Proteas, my sense is that there seems to be a new-found confidence in their ability to ‘get out of jail’ when needed.

In the past, the likes of AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn have regularly come to the fore in this regard.

However, what has proved pleasing is that in recent fixtures the likes of JP Duminy, Hashim Amla and Imran Tahir have really stepped up to the plate and excelled under pressure.

And I feel the fact that David Miller and Quinton de Kock have yet to play a match-winning innings should be of greater concern to India, South Africa’s semi-final opponents. Everyone knows that it’s only a question of time before one, if not both, strike gold with willow.

That said, India have cruised through the tournament unbeaten and yet almost under the radar. As the first side to qualify for the knock-outs, they have enjoyed the luxury of sitting back and watching their opponents slug it out. However, they have, of course, also used the valuable time to practice and analyse almost all details at play.

But no matter how much in-depth preparation a team puts in, one-off games are all about the pressure on the day. The fact that Friday’s showdown is a World Cup semi-final only increases the stakes ten-fold. It effectively means that what has gone before counts for very little.

I believe MS Dhoni’s men enough are wise enough to know that on their day, the Proteas have the potential to beat any side under any conditions.

However, the Indians will no doubt look to capitalise on their strength in playing spin more effectively than most and will surely make use of their spinners at critical times in the contest.

In contrast, South Africa will lean towards their pacemen – something which underpins their cultural makeup. However, through Tahir, the Proteas have discovered a new-found confidence in the middle-over period and crucially another string to their bow.

The Pakistani-born spinner has proved nothing short of a revelation. He has claimed 11 scalps in the tournament thus far, two more wickets than strike bowler Steyn, which underlines his value.  As such, India will look to target Tahir in order to mount the pressure on the Proteas’ bowling attack.

The Dhaka pitch has consistently shown that it takes far more spin and, in turn, is much slower than the wicket the Proteas previously played on in Chittagong.

Everything screams out that this suits India far more than it does South Africa. But, in the short format, it only takes a period of individual brilliance from one of the top order batsmen in the opening overs and the aforementioned advantage is negated.

In the cut and thrust of Friday’s battle, it’s wouldn’t surprise me if the outcome is ultimately decided in the field. While I’m aware that fielding represents just one part of the whole equation, the Proteas hold the aces in this discipline by a country mile.  

In closing, the temptation to be creative and to look too deeply into changing strategies always exists. My belief is that this has often proved the Proteas’ downfall.

Thus, the key for the Proteas is to persist with the tactics which have carried them through to the knock-out phase.

My message to the side is simple: Don’t venture too far outside your comfort zone in a crucial decider.

Symcox, a former South Africa international, is a self-proclaimed cricket fanatic, struggling golfer and addicted writer.

Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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