South Africa have to beat Afghanistan well in Cardiff on Saturday in order to boost their net run rate and keep their slim playoff hopes alive, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Who could have predicted that the Proteas would have one log point after four World Cup matches?
They weren’t talked up as tournament favourites in the buildup. They came into the competition with deep-rooted batting problems and several injury concerns. All that said, few, if any, would have expected South Africa to go four round-robin games without a single victory.
Surely they can’t lose to Afghanistan in Cardiff this Saturday. Surely they will bank the win and lift their net run rate to keep their semi-final ambitions alive.
Surely a team with so many big names can’t fail for a fifth time in succession.
Lungi Ngidi looks set to return for the do-or-die fixture. Batting has been the Proteas’ primary weakness, and yet the attack missed Ngidi in the latter stages of the match against Bangladesh and in the subsequent clash against India.
Ngidi’s fitness will be put to the test when he takes the new ball on Saturday, and South Africa will certainly be counting on him to make some early breakthroughs. The youngster may take heart from the excellent performance he produced against Sri Lanka in a warm-up game at Sophia Gardens two weeks ago.
It will be interesting to see what Faf du Plessis does if he wins the toss on Saturday, given his questionable calls in the earlier stages of the tournament. The cloud cover in Cardiff should provide the bowlers with some assistance, and yet batting first may give the Proteas an edge in a game that may be reduced due to rain.
A number of World Cup matches have been affected and even abandoned due to rain thus far. Du Plessis and the Proteas brains trust will need to keep this in mind when making all tactical decisions on Saturday.
The Proteas might not be thinking beyond the result at this point. They desperately need any sort of win after going winless in the opening four matches.
That said, the margin of victory may be significant in terms of where the Proteas finish up in the final standings. Afghanistan are the weakest team at the tournament, and thus the Proteas should be targeting a result that improves their position on the log in respect of net run rate.
The batsmen will once again be under scrutiny. Hashim Amla has had a poor World Cup, while several senior players have not converted good starts into big scores.
The Proteas’ chances of posting a big total and claiming a significant win may hinge on the performances of those top-six players.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Amla may find form in this match, and Quinton de Kock may well keep his head to score a big hundred. We may also see the likes of Rassie van der Dussen, David Miller and JP Duminy cashing in against a limited bowling attack, especially at the back end of the innings.
What the South Africans will be counting on, however, is a big contribution from Du Plessis in the middle order. It may not sound fair, given the talent and ability of the aforementioned batsmen, but Du Plessis will need to take on more responsibility with the bat in the latter stages of this tournament.
A big innings by the skipper against Afghanistan may well provide the team with the spark they’ve been missing.