The Proteas’ World Cup semi-final against Australia could be shaped by these four defining areas, writes RYAN VREDE.
The Proteas have a clear strength – batting first – making the toss potentially decisive. Of the highest-profile matches hosted at Eden Gardens during the World Cup – India vs South Africa, and England vs Pakistan – the team that won the toss has batted and won by 243 and 93 runs, respectively.
In the six matches between South Africa and Australia this year, Australia have won the toss four times and elected to bat second each time, including in the 134-run defeat in Lucknow.
Australia have won four of the nine tosses at the tournament, batting first on three occasions, and winning once (against the Netherlands) when they’ve chosen to do so.
It is highly unlikely that they’d bat first at Eden Gardens, should they win the toss, given that the surface is likely to amplify Adam Zampa’s threat in the second innings.
South Africa will also almost certainly bat first, and look to Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi to choke Australia in the second dig.
Proteas’ start with the bat
At this point, there is only hope that skipper and opening batsman Temba Bavuma will arrest his chronically poor form. There has yet to be a meaningful partnership with Quinton de Kock. However, Bavuma was very good against Australia in their five-match ODI series earlier this year, and a World Cup semi-final represents an excellent opportunity to make his first significant contribution.
The pair recorded a 108-run partnership in the league game against Australia, albeit considering Bavuma contributed just 35. This laid the platform for a late-innings charge, during which the Proteas scored 140 runs in the last 20 overs.
Only India can match the Proteas’ destructive potential at the back end of the innings, and Australia will be all too familiar with this dimension of their game. In the six matches the sides have played this calendar year, South Africa have scored more than 300 runs four times, with many of those totals achieved through a late-innings blitz.
It all starts with a solid foundation.
How they play Zampa (and other spin-related issues)
Adam Zampa has been excellent throughout the tournament, taking 22 wickets at an economy rate of just 5.71. He will be a major factor at spin-friendly Eden Gardens, particularly if Australia bowl second.
India killed the Proteas’ challenge with spin at the ground two weeks ago, deploying Ravindra Jedeja and Kuldeep Yadav expertly. Jedeja was introduced in the eighth over, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Zampa bowl as early as Australia look to break the back of South Africa’s challenge early.
Australia will also lean into Glenn Maxwell’s offering with the ball. He has been a stifling force, conceding an average of just 4.95 runs per over. Considering that Josh Hazelwood goes at an economy rate of five, and Pat Cummins at just over six, the Proteas will have to be bold in their approach to certain bowlers.
On the flip side, much of their bowling potency will rest in the efforts of Maharaj and Shamsi. The former was excellent at Eden Gardens against India, conceding 30 runs in his 10 overs. Shamsi went at 7.20, but bowled his second spell at the back end of the innings, against well-set batters. If they get five overs for 25-35 runs out of Aiden Markram, their challenge will be further amplified.
There is no question that South Africa are an immensely talented side. But temperament allows that talent to soar.
They have dominated Australia throughout the calendar year, including in the league phase, and must be considered favourites. However, the pressure of a World Cup knockout match has accounted for similarly gifted South African teams in the past. This combined with Australia’s World Cup know-how, could be a potentially potent cocktail.
They have to banish the ghosts of the past with a clinical performance, characterised by absorbing pressure, then excelling despite it.
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