If we are to purely go by numbers, the fact of South Africa sitting second in the ‘Group of Death’ is hardly surprising. No team this year has won more T20Is than the Proteas, and their W/L ratio of 1.625 has been bettered by only two sides, England and Pakistan, teams that sit mighty atop the standings.
They also entered this World Cup on the back of a seven-match winning streak and so in many ways, at least going by recent form, this is a team that is by no means over-performing.
Still, over the years, we’ve gotten so used to South Africa entering T20 World Cups as overwhelming favorites and then under-performing, that our minds are almost wired to expect them to come second-best in crunch situations and close matches. More so this time around given they have a playing XI that, pound-for-pound, is arguably not even in the Top 5 in the competition.
But in Sharjah on Saturday, this Proteas unit, led by Temba Bavuma, put up a ‘write us off at your own peril’ performance that reaffirmed why, despite its flaws, this is a side that ought to be taken seriously.
This is a group that is more than the sum of its parts, and that is precisely why South Africa are now effectively two wins away from sealing that coveted semi-final spot.
But the path forward is anything but easy. In their final group game the Proteas will lock horns with England, but first, they will have to encounter a wounded Bangladesh side that will be desperate to restore pride after enduring a heart-wrenching defeat at the hands of West Indies which all but knocked them out of the World Cup.
South Africa have never tasted defeat in the shortest format against Bangladesh, but they very well know how it feels to be toppled by the Tigers in an ICC event, having comprehensively been beaten by them two years ago in the 2019 World Cup.
Victory on Tuesday might do little to boost South Africa’s chances of making the semis, but a defeat will certainly ensure that they’ll be at the mercy of Australia heading forward.
Can Bangladesh cope without Shakib?
As if defeat against Windies wasn’t painful enough already, Bangladesh were dealt with a killer blow in the aftermath of the game: the nucleus of the team, Shakib Al Hasan, was ruled out of the rest of the tournament with a hamstring injury.
It is no secret that Shakib is the heartbeat of this side. As things stand, he is their highest wicket-taker with 11 wickets to his name, and is also the team’s fourth-highest run-getter. Shakib essentially carried Bangladesh in Round 1 where they could so easily have crashed out.
The question now is: will the Tigers be able to cope without their best player?
In the absence of Shakib, Bangladesh’s balance will, without a question, disappear.
But like Australia, the Tigers will now have to take a call as to whether they want to go batting-heavy or bowling-heavy.
Going batting-heavy will mean including one of Nurul Hasan - who missed the last clash due to injury - or Shamim Hossain in place of Shakib. Both options will be significant downgrades, but it will enable Bangladesh to bat till No.7.
But that would mean Afif, Mahmdullah or Soumya Sarkar doubling-up as the fifth bowler, a scenario that is less than ideal.
Going in with five specialist bowlers, however, will mean Mahedi Hasan batting at No.7, which, one would think, is a spot too high for him, despite his batting capabilities.
The only certainty at this point is left-arm-spinner Nasum Ahmed walking back into the XI, after being dropped for the Sri Lanka encounter.
Proteas’ bowling firing on most cylinders, but Bavuma batting in focus
With Quinton de Kock returning to the starting XI, and with Reeza Hendricks having done well against the Windies, Temba Bavuma pushed himself to No.4 against Sri Lanka and the move worked. Bavuma scored a run-a-ball 46 and kept the innings intact, while the other dynamic, aggressive batters batted around him, took their chances and eventually took the Proteas over the line.
Given Hendricks and de Kock are also much better at exploiting the field restrictions, it was a move that made sense.
But what remains to be seen is if the South African management will be flexible enough to not give Bavuma a fixed batting position and use him as per the need of the situation.
For a while the skipper batting at No.4 worked in a 140-something chase, the same might not be sustainable in pursuit of a larger target, or, say, whilst batting first on a good batting wicket when the team has had a quick start. In such a scenario, the Proteas would be better off utilizing the likes of Markram and Miller, both of whom have looked in fine touch in this World Cup so far.
It goes without saying that Bavuma is the batter with the lowest T20 ceiling in South Africa’s Top 6. But the Proteas can yet maximize their potential by utilizing their resources smartly.
The need for Bangladesh to hold on to catches
Bangladesh are yet to get off the mark in this Super 12 stage, and a lot has to do with their hideous catching. The Tigers have put down an astonishing six catches in the Super 12 stage so far, and have the worst catching efficiency. They put down no less than three catches against the Windies, too, and the drops unsurprisingly came back to haunt them. If they are to stand any chance of upsetting the Proteas, Bangladesh will have no choice but to hold on to all their catches.
Kagiso Rabada entered the World Cup on the back of an underwhelming IPL season, and thus far, he has been the weak link in the Proteas’ attack. The right-armer has taken only 2 wickets, but, more worryingly, has conceded at nearly 8 runs per over. No other South African bowler, Markram included, has an economy over 7.00. Rabada has also been taken apart by opposition batters at the death, with him going at 12.7 runs per over in the final five, not taking a single wicket. Nortje, Shamsi, Maharaj and Pretorius have been flawless in this World Cup so far, but if the Proteas are to make a deep run, they would need Rabada to start re-discovering his old form.
Despite having spent more than a month in UAE, Mustafizur Rahman has had little to no impact in this World Cup, starting from the Round 1 games. The Fizz is still Bangladesh’s second-highest wicket-taker with 8 scalps, but he is conceding at nearly 9 runs per over, and was taken for 43 runs off his 4 overs by West Indies on a Sharjah deck where 142 was defended. The semi-final ship has already sailed, but with pride still at stake, the Tigers would desperately want their talisman to lead from the front.
South Africa: Reeza Hendricks, Quinton de Kock (wk), Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma ©, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Dwaine Pretorius, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, Tabraiz Shamsi
Bangladesh: Mohammad Naim, Liton Das, Soumya Sarkar, Mushfiqur Rahim, Mahmudullah (c), Afif Hossain, Nurul Hasan (wk), Mahedi Hasan, Shoriful Islam, Mustafizur Rahman, Nasum Ahmed