Slowly but steadily, South Africa are pacing themselves well towards an unlikely semi-final spot, writes Divy Tripathi.
You don’t need to look too far away from South Africa’s relationship with World Cups, if you were searching for tragedies of Shakespearean proportions in cricket. The causes of their numerous demises have ranged from the unconventional to downright bizarre. Luck didn’t change with a different format, and flawless performances would be followed up with heart-breaking losses.
What made this T20 World Cup campaign different was that there weren’t many backers for this team, even before the competition began. There were structural issues which plagued the side, their star players like Faf du Plessis, and Imran Tahir weren’t in the squad, and it was only last week that their star player pulled out of a World Cup game, leaving his side in the lurch.
But South Africa have not only done well in the group, they’ve been on top of their game. Their batting department, while not rated too highly by many, is decent enough. Their fielding has been top-notch, something that you’d expect from this group, and Temba Bavuma has led the side well. But it is their bowling which has made them stand out in this T20 World Cup.
Keshav Maharaj has been economical, and Tabraiz Shamsi has wielded his magic across all games and Dwaine Pretorius has been exceptional in the role of South Africa’s fifth bowler, not allowing sides to get away in his overs, while also picking crucial wickets. But, South Africa become a different prospect when their pace guns are in the best of form.
Kagiso Rabada walked into the World Cup after an ordinary IPL, where he picked 15 wickets at an average of 30.4. He had been taken for runs in a number of games. In the World Cup, too, he didn’t get off to the best of starts, often leaking runs in the death overs. However, it all changed when he ripped through the Bangladeshi top-order with a fiery new-ball spell. A world-class bowler, he seems to have got going at the right time in this World Cup.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s other out-and-out speed demon, Anrich Nortje has been right on the money from the very start, carrying on his superb IPL form where he took 12 wickets in eight appearances at a strike-rate of 15.16.
He’s taken that form into the T20 World Cup, where if anything he has become even more efficient. At present, he has eight wickets at an average of 8.75, with an economy rate of 4.56. This is easily the best economy rate among the top ten wicket-takers. The fact of the matter is that he has been too quick, and too good for many of his opponents.
When Arjuna Ranatunga looked back at his side’s fairytale win in the 1996 ODI World Cup, he remarked: “I’ll tell you, the ’96 team was not the best team we had at that time. But they were the most committed team I picked.”
One could say the same about this South African side. They might not have the strongest of batting line-ups, but they are a dynamic side, with one of the best bowling line-ups in the tournament. And their red-hot pacers have shown, that if they come to the party, there’s not much the opponents can do.
They’re still up against it – Australia are slightly ahead in the race for a semi-final spot – but they’re in with a real chance and will fancy their chances if they make the semi-finals where they’d likely face a Pakistan side who only just beat Afghanistan and New Zealand. If they do manage to make it to the semis, this might just be the time for South Africa.
*All figures have been updated before Sri Lanka-West Indies game in the T20 World Cup.