After the heartbreaking and even soul destroying loss to England in their first match of the tournament, South Africa were always going to be a better side in their next outing.
With so much to improve upon for Faf Du Plessis and his team, Afghanistan were going to be up against the odds in this one, and were on the back front right from the start.
Winning the toss and electing to bat, Quinton De Kock was again at his destructive best pouncing on anything offline. He is proving to be a major concern for opposition bowlers and with the new ball, teams don’t seem to know what to do with him.
Afghanistan quickly turned to their spinners to counter him, and their nagging line, lengths and change-ups slowed his scoring, and then caused his downfall. Dismissed for 46, De Kock’s departure saw the Proteas sitting at a far from convincing 97/3 in the 12th over with Hashim Amla out early, and Du Plessis running himself out after looking well set.
The Afghan bowlers were going for runs, but they were using their heads and playing smart cricket. This was a very good batting lineup that they were up against, but they were making it a good contest.
But AB de Villiers and JP Duminy had other ideas. With the two batsmen set at the crease, the game finally took a big swing towards the ‘bigger’ team in the 17th over. Young Rashid Khan had bowled 3 overs for 22 to this point, he then came in for his fourth and final over and got taken apart by AB de Villiers with a scoring sequence of 4-4-6-6-6-1.
His figures were 0/51 in the end, with South Africa going from 138/3 to 167/3. The final three overs then going for 43, and South Africa finished with a very daunting 209/5.
200+ scores have only been chased down 9 times in T20 internationals, so hopes really weren’t high on Afghanistan getting even close. Even more of a dampener was the fact that the last time these two teams met in T20s, South Africa bowled Afghanistan out for 80.
Afghanistan however came out and dished up some numbers of their own. Mohammed Shahzad was carting Rababa and Abbott all over the place, and Faf Du Plessis was suddenly getting flashback to two days prior. 11/0, 33/0, 47/0 - those were the scores at the end of the first three overs.
This was the game where South Africa was meant to get some confidence back, this massacre was not in the script.
Chris Morris stepped forward to be the unlikely hero. He dismissed the danger man Mohammad Shahzad, and South Africa could breathe again with Afghanistan 52/1 after 4 overs. The damage was done though and again the bowlers had taken an almighty body blow during the power play with Afghanistan sitting at 64/2 after 6 overs.
What would that total have been if Shazhad had stayed on, or more worrying for South Africa, what would the score have been if this was a Chris Gayle-led West Indies they were up against?
Rocky start aside, South Africa did regain control of the match from there with Imran Tahir being his usual dependable self. Kyle Abbott looked like an international quality bowler again, and Morris just went from strength to strength.
David Wiese took some tap though, and with JP Duminy off injured he had to bowl his full quota which suited Afghanistan just fine. He finished with figures of 0/47. Surely that is his tournament done now -- he just leaks too many runs, and his role is nothing more than that of Morris’ understudy.
Speaking of Morris, he helped wrap things up at the death with figures of 4/27 off four overs -- a man of the match performance that he and his team desperately needed.
A predictable win in the end then for South Africa by 37 runs, a satisfactory outing for them, but you can’t help but think it was Afghanistan that really impressed on the day. They managed 172 from their 20 overs, and if it wasn’t for Morris finally coming good with the ball, this could have gotten very scary for the South Africans.
Again, the last time these two teams played, 80 was all Afghanistan could muster with the bat. Here they are though with 172 runs on the board.
That’s progress. And for all of those who still like to highlight the words ‘associate’ or ‘minnow’, these guys well and truly deserve to be here, and this match proved it.
200 was always too much for them to chase, but getting as close as Afghanistan did against South Africa is the real result here. Shazhad and the rest, fair play to you. Long may the progress continue.
As for South Africa, they need to sort out that bowling attack. They can win this tournament with the bat, but they are looking like they will surely lose it with the ball. Spinner Aaron Phangiso needs to come in for some more spin and variation, and then, only then can they think about winning this thing.
Chris Gayle and friends up next, the time of getting by with weakness in the ranks is over.