Now that they are in the semi-finals and second in the points table, it is easy to forget that the South African team was successful. This World Cup is given as a free hit. In January, when their automatic participation was hung by a thread and a new coaching structure put in place, the message was simple: Get out there and that’s what we want. “They will not be judged at that World Cup,” CSA director of cricket Enoch Nkwe said at the time.
But of course, now they will. Nkwe in CSA and by cricket fans if not suits. The way they batted and even the way they chased (successfully, once, failed twice), expectations rose. So, perhaps it’s no bad thing that their final group match was essentially a free hit. The pressure is off for South Africa, who will use the Ahmedabad match as a dream rehearsal. Yes, even the team has an eye on the finals.
Yesterday, bowling coach Eric Simmons mentioned this when asked what to expect from South Africa’s last match and today, David Miller The F-word (yes, we mean “final”) three times, in response to three different questions: 1) the size of the stadium in Ahmedabad, 2) Australia playing in the semi-finals and 3) what he can tell people from home about his experience of being a Gujarat Titan at the venue.
This means he knows what to expect from a packed and possibly empty Narendra Modi Stadium. “It’s always a good sight at this ground and I’m really excited about what lies ahead, potentially being here in the final. It would be a great, great achievement,” he said.
Greater still, as few thought South Africa would advance to the knockouts and the way they played had already earned them much praise. Now, it might seem like South Africa are getting carried away and already looking 10 days ahead – and they might be – but they won’t be alarmed. Afghanistan have already beaten three former champions England, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and lost to a fourth, South Africa’s semi-final opponents Australia.
South Africa have only played Afghanistan once before, in the 2019 World Cup where they lost to them For nine wickets -Yes, chasing. This is important because batting second is clearly South Africa’s weak suit, although Miller echoed an earlier expression from Temba Bavuma that “the boys believe they can chase anything”. They managed 271 Against PakistanBut only, and 38 falls short against the Netherlands and impregnates them Blueprint batting requires second work. Over the past few days “we’ve been talking about it and dissecting it and making sure we get that platform and give ourselves the best chance to chase the best,” Miller said.
He emphasized that South Africa “didn’t chase terribly”, which is probably true, but they weren’t good either. This year, they won 10 out of 11 matches batting first and four out of nine batting second. In this World Cup, both defeats have come in chases and this is clearly an area of South Africa’s game that can be exploited and there isn’t much in the personnel to change that. Spare batsman Riza Hendricks played two matches while Bavuma was ill but could sit out again if South Africa are unwilling to go for short bowlers.
It would be too big a risk to take considering one of Lungi Ngidi or Kagiso Rabada could be rested. Andile Phehlukweo should get a game after being brought in as a replacement for Sisanda Magala, his first of the tournament, ruled out with a knee injury. Phehlukweo’s comeback can be seen as a microcosm for South Africa as a whole. He has lost ground to other all-rounders including Marco Janssen and lost his national contract earlier this year and has found his way back after injuries to Magala and Wayne Parnell. He has since had his fair share of substitute fielding, taking three catches and dropping one, and has been a regular presence around the group. “The guys have been fantastic off the field, really supportive and playing their part and training really hard,” Miller said. “He’s definitely given a lot to the team and brought a lot of energy so it’s great to see that and that’s something we want: still pouring and giving and not just taking.”
At Thursday’s optional training session, Phehlukwayo was one of the few in attendance and the only one seen pad-up for the net session, a sign as strong as any that he is set to play. And if he does, it will be a free hit for him and a chance to show what he can do without too serious consequences. Next week, all that will change.