As nonplussing it may sound, England haven’t yet “officially” qualified for the semifinals of the 2021 T20 World Cup.For that to happen, South Africa and Australia will have to win their respective last league-stage encounters by absurd margins. However, considering the form Eoin Morgan and Co. (NRR +3.183) have been in this tournament, it’s almost impossible they will finish anywhere other than the top of Group 1. The battle for that one remaining spot is now between South Africa (+0.742) and Australia (+1.031) and it’s the latter who currently has the advantage.
Australia annihilated Bangladesh on Thursday and managed to leapfrog South Africa in the points table, thanks to their superior NRR. Australia’s last group game is against West Indies who have looked completely out of sorts in this competition, while South Africa will be up against the mighty England. Both games will be played on Saturday (November 6) and the only advantage Temba Bavuma and his men will have over Australia is that they will know exactly what to do to make the semifinals, considering the Aaron Finch-led side will be playing the afternoon game.
How do you stop Jos Buttler and England?
England play T20 cricket the way it should be played. They generally bat till No. 10 and always go with at least six bowling options. Pakistan too have won all their games so far but England have clearly looked the most formidable unit in the showpiece event. The top-ranked T20I side hammered West Indies, Bangladesh and Australia in their first three games but were tested a bit in their previous encounter against Sri Lanka. They lost three wickets inside the powerplay but still ended up winning the game by 26 runs, courtesy of a sensational century from Jos Buttler. England have clearly been the best bowling side in this event, while their batters too have been phenomenal. They have the best scoring rate (8.7) and second-best average (39.3) in this World Cup.
England have gone with the same XI in the first four games but will be forced to make at least one change against South Africa. Left-arm paceman Tymal Mills has been ruled out of the World Cup with a thigh strain and England could replace him with one of David Willey or Reece Topley. They also have two right-arm pacers - Tom Curran and Mark Wood - waiting in the wings. Their bowlers have been very consistent and haven’t allowed any opponent to touch the 140-run mark. The likes of Moeen Ali (5.0), Adil Rashid (5.23), Chris Jordan (5.25), Chris Woakes (5.76) and Liam Livingstone (5.81) have bowled at least 10 overs in this tournament so far and not a single one of them has an economy of more than six.
In the batting department, Buttler has looked head and shoulders above the rest. England were reduced to 35/3 inside the first six overs against Sri Lanka but that’s when Buttler put up a batting masterclass and became the first all-format centurion for England. In T20Is since 2020, Buttler has a strike rate of more than 180 against 140 kmph bowling and he might enjoy batting against Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada who have been in pretty good form. He has a strike rate of close to 170 against these two pacemen and could take them down in the powerplay. The England team management would also be delighted with the fact that Morgan managed to spend some time in the middle against Sri Lanka. The England skipper looked far from his best but did manage 40 off 36 balls and put on a match-saving 112-run partnership with Buttler.
Nortje and Co. continue to impress
It’s mostly because of their bowling that South Africa are still alive in the tournament. Just like England, the Proteas too have an all-round bowling attack. Nortje and Rabada are two of the most feared pacemen of this generation, while left-arm wristspinner Tabraiz Shamsi and left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj too have been very consistent for South Africa. Meanwhile, allrounder Dwaine Pretorius has bowled quite a few overs at the death but still has an economy of only 6.08. The South African bowling attack has the second-best average (14.8), strike rate (14.2) and economy (6.3) after England in the Super 12 stage.
The Proteas bowlers have done well as a unit but it’s Nortje who has impressed everyone with his pace and control. The tearaway paceman has claimed eight wickets in four encounters at an average of 8.75 and a strike rate of 11.5. Playing for Delhi Capitals, he was also impressive in the second half of IPL 2021 in the UAE and is now doing the same for his country. The onus will once again be on him and Rabada to take care of openers Jason Roy and Buttler, and if they can do that, Shamsi and Maharaj could put pressure on England’s fragile middle-order.
South Africa need De Kock to shine
Quinton de Kock is inarguably South Africa’s best batter in white-ball cricket, but things haven’t quite gone in his favour in this World Cup, both on and off the field. We know everything about the taking the knee controversy, so let’s just focus on his performance with the bat. The wicketkeeper-batter has only 35 runs in three innings so far and that’s one of the biggest reasons why South Africa have operated at just six runs per over in the powerplay. David Miller and Aiden Markram have looked in good touch but South Africa need De Kock at his best if they want to compete with England and go further in the tournament.
England - Jason Roy, Jos Buttler (wk), Dawid Malan, Jonny Bairstow, Liam Livingstone, Eoin Morgan (c), Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Chris Jordan, Adil Rashid. David Willey/Reece Topley.
South Africa - Quinton de Kock (wk), Reeza Hendricks, Temba Bavuma (c), Rassie van der Dussen, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Dwaine Pretorius, Kagiso Rabada, Keshav Maharaj, Anrich Nortje, Tabraiz Shamsi.
(All stats till November 4, 2021)