The rain Gods came to South Africa’s rescue when they took field last time out – against West Indies – after they were tottering at 29 for 2 in the eighth over. Hashim Amla failed once again and Sheldon Cottrell also got the better of Aiden Markram, who was roped in place of JP Duminy. Lucky for South Africa that they will find a relatively easier fast bowling attack in Afghanistan, but it is their spinners, who they should be wary of.
This match could not have come at a better time for South Africa, as they have been just about hanging on in this competition. The washout against West Indies certainly did not help their chances of making it to the semi-final, but with good performances in their remaining matches, a bit of luck and with a little help from the rain Gods, the Proteas could still make it to the final four, but cannot afford any more slip up. Afghanistan on paper should be an easy fixture for the Faf du Plessis-led side, but given his side’s blip, they could make a match of this as well.
The Afghanistan pacers have found it difficult to make inroads at regular intervals and despite of South Africa’s poor form in this tournament so far, they could find it easier in the initial stages of the match, when they come up against the Afghan fast bowlers.
However, it is the spinners that have given Afghanistan some sort of respectability. They have picked up the second most wickets this tournament and when it comes to their economy rate, they are second only to New Zealand. The Afghanistan spinners have also have the best strike-rate among all teams this World Cup. However, when it comes to the pacers, they are rock bottom.
*Minimum 1 wicket
Spin has always played a major role in keeping runs down at the Sophia Gardens. The spinners have conceded at 5.40, the fast bowlers have a marginally higher economy rate of 5.73. However, when it comes to the strike-rates, the pacers get a wicket every 32.3 deliveries, while the spinners have a strike-rate of 47. Rashid Khan did not take the field after taking a blow to the head while batting, but he is expected to be fit for this game. Along with Mohammad Nabi, Afghanistan perhaps have the best spin duo in the World Cup.
Rashid especially can be deadly with his googlies. He has picked up 55 wickets at 7.1, economy rate of 2.8 and the batsmen score a boundary every 43.3 deliveries. It further works to his advantage as the South African batsmen struggle against such deliveries.
Timely introduction of Rashid into the attack is also important. While he manages to keep the runs down, it is his striking ability that takes a hit, if his introduction is delayed. He has a bowling strike-rate of 15 between overs 6 to 10. However, the strike-rate goes up to 26 and 42.6, when he bowls between overs 11 to 15 and 16 to 20 respectively. Using him effectively is going to be key for Afghanistan.
The middle overs is where the matches can be won or lost. Unfortunately for South Africa, their bowlers – be it pacers or spinners – have never really managed to give their team the edge, unlike Afghanistan, whose spinners are amongst the top teams when it comes to keeping the runs down and picking up wickets.
Also, when it comes to the batting in the middle overs, both teams are on the wrong end of the table. Afghanistan have the highest dot ball percentage in this phase, while South Africa’s boundary percentage is just better than Sri Lanka.
South Africa lose all the momentum in the middle overs, scoring at just 4.92 runs an over, but make up for it to a certain extent in the death overs, where their batting run-rate is 6.89, but have never managed to put up match-winning totals. Afghanistan on the other hand have faced just seven deliveries at the death.
Lungi Ngidi is set to be fit for this game and might directly make it to the XI. With Kagiso Rabada already in the team, the duo can provide Afghanistan batsmen with some sweet chin music. After all, Afghanistan has the worst strike-rate against bouncers (68.96). Interestingly, just above them are South Africa, who have a strike-rate of 101.58 against bouncers. A case for the return of fast bowler Dawlat Zadran to return to the XI, maybe? He is perhaps the fastest bowler Afghanistan has at the moment and with the pace he generates, he certainly has the ability to trouble the South Africans early on.
Aftab Alam with his three wickets against New Zealand – his first game of the competition - has guaranteed himself another shot at the cherry. If the Asian side has to bring in Dawlat into this match, they might get him in place of Hamid Hassan. However, they should consider adding a bit more experience into their batting, by getting in the likes of former captain Asghar Afghan and Samiullah Shinwari.
AFG: Gulbadin Naib (c), Hamid Hassan/Dawlat Zadran, Mohammad Nabi, Noor Ali Zadran/Ashgar Afghan, Aftab Alam, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Najibullah Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Rashid Khan, Ikram Ali khil (wk), Hazratullah Zazai
The South African team just 45 balls in their previous match against West Indies, but there were visible cracks. Ngidi in for Beuran Hendricks might be the only change for them
SA: Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, David Miller, Imran Tahir, Chris Morris, Quinton de Kock (wk), Lungi Ngidi, Rassie van der Dussen, Aiden Markram, Kagiso Rabada, Andile Phehlukwayo
Afghanistan have won just one World Cup match so far. The wait for their elusive second win will perhaps have to wait a little further. The weather at Cardiff might however ensure that they do not add to their losses.