Whatever the outcome in this, the sixth and final match of South Africa’s T20I fortnight, you can be sure they will emerge battle-hardened for the experience of taking on two of the toughest white-ball opponents in the world, if not entirely the wiser as to their own direction of travel in the final countdown to October’s T20 World Cup.
There is, after all, a series to be won in Cape Town on Wednesday – as indeed there was against England at Centurion last Sunday. But on this occasion, South Africa may be somewhat baffled to still be in contention, given the magnitude of their shellacking in Friday’s first fixture against Australia at the Wanderers.
So they bounced back with commendable vigour after being bowled out for 89 in that opening match to lose by a record 107 runs, and in so doing brought the Aussies’ own run of eight consecutive T20I wins to an abrupt halt. But much as had been the case in their win against England at East London, South Africa owed plenty to their visitors’ untimely malfunction, as Australia squandered a requirement of 35 off 28 balls with eight wickets standing, and a Forecaster prediction of 91 percent, to lose by 12 runs.
Of course, that reading of the result underplays a fine display of death bowling from Lungi Ngidi and Kagiso Rabada, who had looked a touch rusty when his three overs were being carted for 45 at Johannesburg, but now seems to have settled back into a rhythm since his new-year down-time. And given that Ngidi was instrumental in England’s failure to score seven runs from their final seven balls at Buffalo Park, it’s clear that he’s developing into a key pillar of the side that will travel to the World Cup.
But elsewhere there are still too many questions for South Africa. What happens when Quinton de Kock’s hot run of form goes cold? (He had a rare failure at Wanderers and look how that turned out.) Does Dwaine Pretorius offer enough in either or both of his roles? Can Dale Steyn’s hard-fought comeback really withstand the frustrating ravages of time? Do they have any idea how to accommodate Faf du Plessis in his post-captaincy era, let alone another potential comeback for AB de Villiers. Time is running out to find answers to all of the above, and more.
Australia, self-evidently, have few such concerns. With the injured Glenn Maxwell still to come, they’ve hit upon a ruthlessly balanced XI, spearheaded by a white-ball goat in Mitchell Starc and featuring an enviable balance of pace, spin and all-sorts options. And given the recent success of host nations in global events, October’s T20 World Cup can’t come quickly enough for them.
And yet … Australia lost the other day, by a pretty emphatic margin, and another systems failure on Wednesday could yet hand South Africa their first series win in four attempts this home season. Which just goes to show that, in this short and wild format, it’s best not to take anything for granted. It can all still be alright on the night, on any given night.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa WLLLW
In the spotlight
In a team of mixed experience, particularly in the batting department, David Miller is a man who perhaps needs to be offering more to his side. He’s had a passable time of late, with an important half-century in the ODI win against England, and a brisk 35 not out from 20 to post a daunting (though not ultimately matchwinning) 222 for 6 in the T20I at Centurion. But in his floating role in South Africa’s middle order, he’s made 13 from 15 balls against Australia so far in this series, a far cry from the dominance of which he’s capable. At the age of 30, with a decade of experience to fall back on, and with twin T20I World Cups in the offing, this ought to be his time to shine.
As red-inkers go, David Warner’s 67 at Port Elizabeth was a curious affair. When he reached his fifty from 38 balls in the 13th over, Australia were cruising, but from that moment on, his scoring seized up – just 16 more runs from his final 18 balls, as a succession of new batsmen came and went without making much of an impact. He presumably believed that Australia would win if he stayed to the bitter end – and his running between the wickets certainly helped to keep their partnerships ticking. But you suspect that he might be inclined to take a more direct course of action if faced with a similar situation in the decider.
Temba Bavuma will undergo another fitness test after missing the last match with a hamstring injury, while Heinrich Klassen is a similar doubt after injuring his hip before the Wanderers match. Dale Steyn, whose workload is being managed on his return to the team, is back in contention after sitting out at Port Elizabeth. Jon-Jon Smuts could return in the middle order to offer a second spin option.
South Africa: (possible) 1 Quinton de Kock (capt, wk), 2 Temba Bavuma, 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 Rassie van der Dussen, 5 Jon-Jon Smuts, 6 David Miller, 7 Andile Phehlukwayo, 8 Kagiso Rabada, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Tabraiz Shamsi, 11 Lungi Ngidi
Despite their set-back in the last contest, Australia’s T20I outfit is a well-oiled machine at present, and the likelihood is that the side that squandered their first shot at a series win will be backed to get it right this time.
Australia: (possible) 1 David Warner, 2 Aaron Finch (capt), 3 Steven Smith, 4 Matt Wade, 5 Mitchell Marsh, 6 Alex Carey (wk), 7 Ashton Agar, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Adam Zampa, 11 Kane Richardson
Pitch and conditions
It’s looking set to be a scorcher at Newlands. It was 33 degrees on the eve of the match, with not a breath of wind. The pitch, according to assistant coach Enoch Nkwe, could be similar in character to the Port Elizabeth strip, where 158 for 4 proved sufficient. Keshav Maharaj claimed 4 for 24 on the same surface in a recent domestic 50-over game, so spin could be a factor.
Stats and trivia
This time last year South Africa racked up a hefty 192 for 6 at Newlands, to win a thriller against Pakistan by six runs.
Aaron Finch is 66 runs away from becoming the second Australian after David Warner to reach 2,000 T20I runs.
Dale Steyn needs one more wicket to take 700 international wickets.
“We always think about every game we play but we also understand that in this process it’s important that we master the fundamentals and we get the right type of formula. It’s a professional sport, we want to win but if it doesn’t happen and we’ve played in the way we want to play, then it’s a win. We’ve got a lot of new players and we have created a platform for them to try and find the right formula. It’s ideal to win series but the big picture is more important.”
Enoch Nkwe, South Africa’s assistant coach, will be seeking the positives, no matter what the outcome may be
“We’re definitely on track. If you look back 18 months or even further back than that, people were talking about us as not like a top-five-ranked team. It’s very difficult with the schedule to play and put your best teams on the park all the time. Over the last 18 to 24 months, we have established a very strong squad and we’ve put our best teams on the park every time we’ve played. We don’t rely on one or two players. We’ve got 11 match winners and that’s the exciting thing.”
David Warner feels Australia’s World Cup plans are coming together very nicely