It will be a clash of the fast bowlers as South Africa take on West Indies at Southampton. Having lost three in a row, South Africa will have to win the remaining six matches to have a chance of making it to the semi-finals. For the West Indies, with one win and one loss in two games, it is a case of getting back to winning ways.
Ahead of the tournament, South Africa was tipped to have the best fast bowling unit in the competition. However, if the three matches are any indication, they have not lived up to the reputation. They have the second worst strike-rate (41.7), only behind Afghanistan (49.5). The West Indies quicks, in contrast, have the best bowling strike-rate in 2019 World Cup (19.7).
West Indies fast bowlers’ ‘in your face’ bowling has old timers recalling the era of Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and Andy Roberts, who dominated international cricket with their fierce pace and attacking lines. If the current set of bowlers repeat their performance of the first two games through the rest of the tournament, we could see the Windies create a few more shockwaves.
While it is true the Proteas quicks have been underwhelming, it is also true that they have been unlucky with injuries, with Lungi Ngidi out for an indeterminate time with a hamstring injury, and Dale Steyn out for keeps with a dodgy shoulder. Chris Morris has stepped into the vacuum, but it is fair to say the Proteas pace attack has been decimated.
What South Africa will face when they go up against the Windies is the well-directed bouncer at pace – a tactic that has worked well for the West Indies but not as well for South Africa’s depleted pace attack.
*As on June 6, 2019
Clearly, the Windies have had their best success with this tactic, and this only adds further to South Africa’s woes. Opener Hashim Amla, who in the tournament opener against Australia was hit on the head by a bouncer and had to retire for testing, has had an atrocious year against fast bowlers. His average of 28.4 against pacers in 2019 is his worst in a calendar year. He also tends to lose his wicket early on against pace, which was not the case earlier in his career.
South Africa have been slow off the blocks with the bat, be it in the first phase or the second, which has hurt them in securing match-winning totals. Despite the fact that they score at 6.89 runs per over in the final phase, their run-rate of 4.26 and 4.92 in overs 1-10 and 11-40 respectively has given them very little momentum going into the death. With the likes of Oshane Thomas, Sheldon Cottrell, Jason Holder and Andre Russell bombarding the Proteas with bouncers, those run rates are likely to dip even further. In the Cup thus far, South Africa have lost six of their batsmen to bouncers. at an average of just nine.
South Africa’s top three have always been a dependable lot, who make significant contributions to the team’s total. Since the 2015 World Cup, the top 3 have contributed 52.41% of the team’s total, which is the second best after India’s 62.07%. However, in this edition of the World Cup, they have let the team down, contributing only 38.92% of the team’s runs – only Afghanistan with 24.84% is below them.
*As on June 6, 2019
As far as the West Indies batting is concerned, they are dependent on Chris Gayle to get them off to a flying start. Among those who have scored at least 800 runs since the beginning of 2018, Gayle’s strike-rate of 115.20 is only behind the English duo of Jos Buttler (124) and Jonny Bairstow (118.02).
However, against left-arm pacers Gayle has a strike-rate of 66 and has been dismissed twice in five innings since 2018, which perhaps makes a case for Beuran Hendricks to be named in the Proteas XI.
If Gayle fails, West Indies have the ever-reliable Shai Hope in the middle-order, who may not score runs at a quick pace but knows how to bat through the anchor the innings, allowing the likes of Shimron Hetmeyer, Dre Russ and Jason Holder to bat around him.
In the two matches so far, Hope has opened once and played at 3 in the other. The opening slot is where he really thrives, scoring at an average of 107.38 and strike-rate of 93, when compared to No. 3, where he has a contrasting average of 38.41 and strikes at 69. Hope as an opener is dismissed once every 62.2 deliveries in the opening 10 overs, which is much better than Gayle (42.4) and Evin Lewis (41.1), which strengthens the case for him to open.
With South Africa’s top three showing signs of poor form, they need to strengthen the middle, and might consider bringing in Aiden Markram in place of JP Duminy, who has not just had a poor World Cup, but has not been in the best of forms since 2017. His inability to score in the middle-phase, where he averages 24.5 at a strike-rate of just 73 since 2017, has choked South Africa’s progress; the team management might want to consider a change as the team is now in do or die mode and cannot afford to lose another game.
Windies should consider getting Darren Bravo at No. 3 and open with Hope and Gayle. Their fast bowlers have done a tremendous job in the two matches so far and as a result, Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel will continue to warm the bench.
WI: Jason Holder (c), Chris Gayle, Andre Russell, Ashley Nurse, Carlos Brathwaite, Darren Bravo, Sheldon Cottrell, Nicholas Pooran (wk), Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope (wk), Oshane Thomas
South Africa on the other hand need to ring in a couple of changes. Hendricks, who was named as Dale Steyn’s replacement, could come in for Tabraiz Shamsi. Also, they could consider bringing in Markram for Duminy, unless the Proteas decide to go for experience in the middle-order for this crunch game. Ngidi is yet to regain full fitness and is most likely to sit this one out as well.
SA: Faf du Plessis (c), JP Duminy/Aiden Markram, Hashim Amla, David Miller, Imran Tahir, Chris Morris, Quinton de Kock (wk), Rassie van der Dussen, Kagiso Rabada, Andile Phehlukwayo, Beuran Hendricks
Rain is expected to play a part in this match as well. With the pitch cover being set to be removed just a couple of hours before the match, the moisture on the pitch along with the grass covering will be a plus for the fast bowlers. Having said that, if the batsmen are able to negate the initial 6 to 7 overs, the pitch will ease up a bit, making batting slightly easier.