Even if the Proteas have an off day, they will have the class to beat this underwhelming Pakistan side.
Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur endured a brutal press conference on Sunday evening. It was my first press conference involving the Pakistan media, and I quickly realised that they don’t hold back. Perhaps it was the fact that they lost the biggest rivalry in sport for a seventh-successive time in big tournaments. Perhaps it was because they had to write about how poor their side played in their 124-run D/L defeat to India.
It can’t be easy having to answer questions like ‘Do you feel like you’ve taken your side backwards?’ and ‘Are you going to take the blame for this defeat?’ Arthur, visibly demoralised, chose to get frustrated instead of providing meaningful responses how to get his side back on track.
As frustrating as it may have been for the former Proteas coach, Pakistan were poor. They were lacklustre in the field, Wahab Riaz produced the worst figures in Champions Trophy history without even completing his spell, and only one batsman had a strike rate over 100, despite the required run rate never being below six an over.
Arthur’s defence that the dropped catches would have changed the game, and that he thought outside the box by opening with Imad Wasim, fell on deaf ears. India dropped catches too, and opening with a spinner on a pacy deck in overcast conditions made no sense whatsoever.
When he wasn’t defending his players, his typical response to the media was a rudimentary ‘that’s an insult’. He even tried to claim that Pakistan have improved under his leadership because he’s taken Pakistan from No 9 to No 8 in the world.
If this is the ambition of the side at the moment, then they’re in for a baptism of fire against the Proteas. Yes, Pakistan carry that air of unpredictability, and yes, they have a match-winner in Mohammad Amir and experience in Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez. But the Proteas are the No 1 side in the world, and have six players in the top ten ICC rankings in their respective disciplines.
Rankings count for squat on the day, but what it means is that even if the South Africans have an off day, they have the class to outgun a side who are falling behind in this format of the game. Their lack of experience in domestic T20 competitions has certainly played its part; they don’t possess the firepower in that top six to take the game away from opposition.
You might argue that Pakistan beat the Proteas in similar circumstances at the 2015 World Cup, but only three remain from that side. Shahid Afridi, Younis Khan and Misbah Ul Haq, who all contributed meaningfully in that match, have all since retired.
While Pakistan provide a different kind of threat to Sri Lanka, if the Proteas can see off Amir in the first 10 overs, then they should seal qualification to the semi-finals before they need to face India.
Photo: Gareth Copley/Getty Images