Despite their series loss to India, South Africa are genuine T20 World Cup contenders
After a bruising first two T20Is against India, South Africa’s final match victory was more representative of the potential the side has going into the T20 World Cup, writes Katya Witney.
South Africa’s top-order collapse in the first match of the T20I series and their poor bowling performance in the second where they conceded 237 runs do not paint a particularly promising picture a few weeks out from a World Cup. However, South Africa’s chances of going far in the tournament should be judged by their performances over the last 12 months, which are that of a much improved since narrowly crashing out of the 2021 tournament on net run-rate in the group stages.
A lack of batting fire power cost South Africa in 2021 and, while they won all but one of their matches, their net run rate wasn’t enough to see them through to the semi-finals.
In the year since that disappointment, South Africa have been quietly growing in strength, winning seven out of their 13 T20I matches and claiming series victories in England and Ireland. Even more promising for the Proteas is that their batting lineup has passed 200 on five occasions in those matches, with Rilee Rossouw and David Miller taking them past the mark in their last two T20Is against India. Miller in particular has had a phenomenal year in T20Is, striking at 186.18 and averaging above 50. His blistering hundred in a losing cause against India last week looked particularly ominous for bowlers facing him in Australia.
South Africa definitely still have some outstanding issues to solve, not least the form of their captain. Temba Bavuma scored just three runs off 19 balls on his return from injury against India and he poses a tricky decision for the selectors going into the tournament.
Nevertheless, looking at the changes to their squad from last year, there is definitely cause for optimism for South African fans as the tournament approaches.
Rossouw has been in imperious form with the bat since returning to international cricket. He averages 57.75 in T20I cricket in six innings this year, striking at 180.46. His glorious 48-ball hundred against India in the final match of the series further showed his value to South Africa at the number three spot. With Rassie van der Dussen out of the squad with injury, Rossouw’s inclusion gives South Africa’s top order some extra firepower alongside Quinton de Kock as an opener.
Tristan Stubbs’ selection is also a positive step forward for South Africa. He showed everyone what the hype surrounding him was about in the series against England, hitting eight sixes in his first T20I innings. His versatility and power, partnering Miller in the middle-order, gives them the continuity and depth further down the order which they lacked in the World Cup last year.
The squad also looks well-balanced in the bowling department, with plenty of premier pacers to choose from. Whilst there is healthy competition for places amongst the seamers, bolstered by the return of Wayne Parnell to the squad, they lack options to limit scoring in the middle of the innings. They have conceded big totals fairly regularly over the last year, including two scores of above 230 against England and India.
South Africa will also be without Dwaine Pretorius, who has been ruled out of the competition with a fracture to his left thumb. One of the side’s two all-rounders, it’s a big blow for South Africa who will most likely call-up Marco Jansen from their reserve list in Pretorius’s place; Pretorius was revelation for South Africa at the 2021 T20 World Cup, conceding his runs at less than seven per over. Jansen has only played one T20I for South Africa this year but has an opportunity find his feet in the ODI series against India before heading out to Australia.
Tabraiz Shamsi has been having an uncharacteristically expensive year with the ball, going at more than nine an over and with five of his 12 wickets coming when he skittled England out at Southampton. Given the brutality spin bowlers can suffer on Australian pitches, South Africa may have to fiddle with the balance of their bowling lineup, potentially only choosing one of Shamsi or Keshav Maharaj to make up their XI.
In South Africa’s favour is the group they sit in, which looks to be the easier of the two keeping out of the way of both Australia and England. They should be able to navigate themselves out of the Super 12 stage if they can outperform Pakistan, with India looking likely to take top spot.
As the squads head out to Australia and pundits make predictions for their picks to reach the knockout stages and take home silverware, South Africa shouldn’t be underestimated. They may not be the most polished side going into the tournament, they are more than capable of springing an upset or two and bettering their result from last year.