After 1999 and 2003, any sentence with the words ‘South Africa’ and ‘World Cup’ includes the mandatory pejorative “chokers” – it’s almost like a rule. And though repetition has made it a bit stale, it needs saying that the Proteas in their first outing of the 2019 edition have done little or nothing to shed the tag. In the pre-tournament build up the consensus was that this would be SA’s year of redemption, but the first impression hints at another year of suffering.
Comprehensively beaten by tournament favorites England by 104 runs in the inaugural fixture on Thursday, South Africa face a relatively easier task this Sunday (May 2) against Bangladesh.
Not that Bangladesh are pushovers. In a recently concluded tri-series against West Indies and Ireland, Bangladesh triumphed in conditions similar to those pertaining to the Cup.
In the tournament opener on May 30 Faf du Plessis, leader of a team with enviable pace options, opted to open with Imran Tahir, and it bore immediate dividends with the wily leg spinner sending Jonny Bairstow back for a golden duck.
“We will take away some positives,” is a cliché losing captains resort to at the first sight of a microphone. The Proteas in fact did have some vague positives to “take away” – notably, the fact that their bowlers, led by Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi, both back from injury, kept taking wickets and ensured that England did not post one of those humongous totals that have become the hosts’ trademark. Pity about the batting, though.
Leading into game two, the Proteas have a clutch of problems to solve, and most revolve around their batting. Quinton de Kock’s mind-melt when it comes to ICC tournaments is legendary, but on Thursday he was by far the Proteas’ best batsman. And, bonus silver lining, he loves the Bangla bowlers, against whom he averages 66.2.
Against that, the legendary Hashim Amla comes into this tournament on the back of fairly ordinary form in his last five innings, in which span of time JP Duminy is the only batsman who did worse.
In the curtain raiser, Amla walked off after taking one in the grille from Jofra Archer. Sunday will be an opportunity for the veteran to find some form.
The batsmen behind de Kock, Amla and Faf haven’t exactly set pulses racing in recent times. Duminy had an ordinary outing in the opener; van der Hussen showed some composure in a tough situation, and Pehehlkuwayo played a little cameo, but that is about it – and the sum total doesn’t approach world standards. SA clearly needs its top three to fire, so the others can bat in their slipstream.
And then there is David Miller, known for his pyrotechnics with the bat, who has seen his strike-rate dwindle since the last edition of the World Cup, and was not picked for the playing XI against England.
Bangladesh’s most potent weapon in recent times has been Shakib Al Hasan, who has been predominantly batting at number three since 2018.
It is a decision that has reaped rewards for the all-rounder as he uses his experience to consolidate his side’s position. Shakib has seen a massive spike in his average since being promoted.
Taking up the mantle in the middle order is Mushfiqur Rahim, who is among the top run-getters among all batsmen batting between four and seven, trumping the likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni on the list. What he has going for him is a remarkable consistency that has seen him register twelve 50-plus scores in the period under review.
South Africa has a pace attack to die for, led by Rabada and Ngidi who, since 2018, have been among the most successful new ball pairings in international cricket – but the Bangladesh pace cupboard is not exactly empty either. Rubel Hossain and Mustafizur Rahman boast the best average during this period.
In a late blow for Bangladesh, skipper Mashrafe Mortaza revealed that opener Tamim Iqbal will not be fit for the tie after suffering a wrist injury during a net session on Friday.
Tally it all up and this is what you get: South Africa do well with the ball but the batting needs a tune up all the way through. Bangladesh perform decently with both bat and ball, and only lack one X factor capable of turning games on their heads.
On Sunday, it is South Africa that has more at stake – having started with a defeat, who have a tough schedule that sees them play three games in seven days, need to put points on the table and confidence in their minds ahead of the May 5 battle against the fancied Indians.