The two teams have had contrasting results heading into the World Cup. In 2020, South Africa were akin to a fish out of water in T20Is. They lost seven out of their nine T20Is, translating to a win percentage of only 22.2. This year, they have flipped their fortunes, levelling the national record for consecutive T20I wins. They have a win percentage of 61.1, with series victories in West Indies, Ireland and Sri Lanka.
Australia have not won a T20I series this year. A victory was a far-fetched prospect in West Indies and Bangladesh, where they were outplayed, crashing to eight defeats in 10 T20Is.
All that will matter little when the two teams take the field on Saturday noon (October 23) to kick off the Super 12 round of the 2021 T20 World Cup. It is a World Cup after all, a fresh start that, should it meet the desired destination, will dilute all events of the past.
Talking about the start, no team has a breathing space to begin with in this group. The tougher of the two Super 12 groups where none of these two teams are favorites to qualify - the tag goes to the finalists of the previous event in 2016 - every game is crucial as it comes.
South Africa’s bowling turn around and the contest
The flip in South Africa’s T20 fortunes are catalysed by a turnaround in the bowling department. Their batting numbers have improved marginally but the bowling average has dipped from 33.3 in the previous year to 21.1. Similarly, the economy-rate has come down to 7.7, a vast improvement from 9.4 in 2020.
Tabraiz Shamsi has been at the helm of this development. His new found mojo has instilled a breath of fresh air in their bowling numbers. In South Africa’s last three T20I series, he has picked 18 wickets in 10 matches at an economy of only 4.9. There is no wonder why he is the Number One bowler in the T20I rankings.
Shamsi’s rise bodes well for South Africa to have a go at Australia’s crippled batting returns against spin.
At present, Glenn Maxwell is the only Australian batsman with the ability to force the issue against spin. That is what enabled him to have a stellar IPL season with the Bangalore franchise. Thus, Australia will also rely on Maxwell in the middle-over to infuse or keep the momentum in the middle-overs.
This also highlights Shamsi versus Maxwell as the contest of this match.
Threats for South Africa
Kagiso Rabada’s overall numbers have improved this year but he has been far from his best in the death overs. He has been taken apart at an economy of 11.6 in T20Is this year.
In IPL 2021, his poor form parted him from his role of the death over specialist. However, Delhi had three prime pacers which allowed Delhi Capitals to adjust Rabada to a middle-overs enforcer. That role is not available in the South African setup which has two outright pacers. Hence, it is time for Rabada to pull up his socks.
South Africa also do not have a defined position for their skipper Temba Bavuma. He may open or bat at three but his returns have been middling at best - average 29, strike-rate 116. He scored 31 off 39 balls and 46 off 42 balls in the two warm-up games. Moreover, he pushes the other batters one spot lower in the line-up, especially Rassie van der Dussen who showed his suitability to number three with a match-winning hundred in the second warm-up game against Pakistan.
Players to watch out for
David Warner will attract all the eyeballs with a keen interest on him. He is going through the phase every star cricketer goes at least once in his career. He averages 24.4 at a sluggish strike-rate of 107.7 this year. With Warner, the dilemma is that it has come at an age of 35 years. He is still Australia’s first-choice opener by virtue of his glorious past. But the southpaw needs to set his redemption in motion soon both for him and the team’s cause.
Apart from Shamsi, Aiden Markram also evokes keen interest. Earmarked for future, Markram finally seems to get the hang of international cricket. He averages 40.8 this year in 11 T20I innings at a strike-rate of 150. In addition, he will play a key role with his part-time off-spin. We might even see him bowl the first over, to exploit his match-up to the left-hander Warner.
Aaron Finch (c), David Warner, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Steve Smith/Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade (wk), Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa, Josh Hazlewood
Quinton de Kock (wk), Aiden Markram, Temba Bavuma (c), Rassie ven der Dussen, David Miller, Heinrich Klaasen, Dwaine Pretoius, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Norjte, Tabraiz Shamsi