The ease with which the Australians picked off West Indies on Sunday night was a worrying sight for the Proteas, considering that AB de Villiers’ charges were skittled for their lowest total against the islanders since 1992. Signs point towards another victory for Australia, but SA know they’re a better batting side than the performance they put up in that opener. De Villiers failed to hit a boundary in the 49 balls he faced, unusual for a player who hit the second-most sixes in the IPL. The runs aren’t going to come from the bottom six, so AB and co have to step up in order to combat Australia’s explosive top order. There was little wrong with the bowling, though – Kyle Abbott and Kagiso Rabada were disciplined up front and the spinners were clinical.
It will be interesting to see who makes way for Du Plessis when he returns. Should he not be ready for tonight’s game, it’s a final chance for somebody to show that they belong in the side. Given Rilee Rossouw’s assured 61 in the opener, and JP Duminy’s value as an extra spinner, it’s difficult to see past Farhaan Behardien. Eight of his last nine matches have produced single-digit scores, and his dismissal on Friday evening was poor – he went on the back foot and misjudged the spin of a Sunil Narine delivery – it was an easy wicket. There didn’t appear to be too much thought behind his solitary over in the 48th, which raises questions yet again as to what his role is in the side. Expect to see him make way for Du Plessis, with Rossouw moved down to No 5 or 6.
Both matches so far have proved that employing two front-line spinners is the way to go, and thanks to their exploits in each match, all four spinners go into this clash in form. Now it just depends which spinners can mix it up the best on the day, and how effectively the captains utilise them. Nathan Lyon and Adam Zampa were excellent on Sunday – Lyon kept it simple, waited for the mistakes and changed up his pace, while Zampa was on the attack with each delivery, rarely bowling the same delivery twice. Their returns yielded 58-7. Imran Tahir meanwhile was lethal with his googlies, while Araron Phangiso got his deliveries to straighten nicely. Getting the likes of JP Duminy and Glenn Maxwell to eat up some overs and keep the run rate down will also contribute towards deciding who wins this match.
THE STARC FACTOR
Mitchell Starc’s pace adds a completely different dimension to Australia’s attack – something they’ve been missing since he last played an ODI for them in September. He has a knack for taking early wickets and unsettling the top order. What’s even more daunting is that he managed to get some swing, too. Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock might want to show some patience upfront and take some time to settle in, as early wickets will slow the run rate down significantly when spin is introduced in the middle overs.
FIRE AT THE TOP
We all know that one big knock is all it takes to win a T20, but the way these sides are assembled, this encounter could follow a similar path. David Warner has taken his lethal IPL form with him into the 50-over setup. Combine the quality of Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja with the attacking mindset of Aaron Finch and Glenn Maxwell, and you have the recipe for a run-fest, no matter the surface. On the other side you have the destructive capabilities of De Kock and the flair of Amla and De Villiers, which gives this match an air of unpredictability often associated with T20s.