What does New Zealand’s ‘upset’ victory over India in the World T20 tournament mean for South Africa?
The unpredictable nature of the format means there should never be any favourites for a game, especially between the traditional powerhouses.
India may have the experience of winning a World Cup on home soil, but that was a largely different team in a different era. They may have won the Asia Cup prior to the World T20, but they lost a T20 series against South Africa at home six months ago.
There are no guarantees.
On Tuesday, they were undone by the very thing they are usually praised for – quality spin bowling and the ability to play it.
India’s batsmen faltered on a turner in Nagpur, the same venue where they wrapped up the Test series against South Africa in November last year by winning the third Test by 124 runs.
The host nation fell victim to an audacious selection policy by New Zealand, who raised eyebrows at the toss by omitting seamers Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Mitchell McClenaghan from their team, instead opting for a spin trio of Nathan McCullum, Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi.
It was a bold move, reminiscent of something that the previous captain, Brendon McCullum, would have done if he were still playing. New Zealand took a chance and it paid off. Sure, India played a role in their own downfall, but what I can’t understand is why India were such clear favourites.
New Zealand are ranked second on the ICC’s T20I rankings. India are first, but in the fickle, unpredictable world of 20-over cricket rankings don’t count for much.
The result wasn’t as big an upset as some would have us believe. Maybe the most surprising thing about it was how comfortably – by 47 runs – the Black Caps won. A much closer game was expected.
There are no favourites in this tournament, a statement South Africa’s captain, Faf du Plessis, agreed with during his arrival press conference a few days ago. New Zealand thought outside the box, took a calculated risk and it paid off handsomely because they beat India at their own game.
Fortune favours the brave.
Clearly spin bowling is going to play a big role in this tournament, but the question is where does that leave the Proteas?
They are a very structured team and Du Plessis is not as adventurous and instinctive in his captaincy as AB de Villiers is when he leads the ODI side. South Africa’s past in ICC tournaments might prevent them from trying new things and thinking outside the box.
If they have moved on from past disappointments, as they claim they have, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Imran Tahir is a world class spinner and a massive player for South Africa at this tournament, but there remains doubt over JP Duminy’s ability as the second spinner given his lack of confidence, especially when he is put under pressure. Aaron Phangiso is still coming to grips with his new bowling action and probably can’t be relied on too much.
It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s also not a train smash. We have to remember that T20 cricket is a batsmen’s game and South Africa’s top order still holds the key to their success.
India ultimately lost the game due to their batsmen’s failings against spin. Luckily for South Africa, De Villiers, Du Plessis and Hashim Amla all play spin well and have vast experience in Indian conditions doing so.
Applying that skill and knowledge in a pressure situation will be their real test.