As victory margins go, 37 runs is a big one, particularly if it’s a Twenty20 contest. Such a margin would indicate that the match was actually a mismatch, with brute domination from one side. But margins sometimes don’t tell you the full story – statistical summation cannot encapsulate the entire range of drama and excitement that makes an interesting match what it is. The ICC World T20 South Africa-Afghanistan face-off on Sunday is a case in point.
South Africa, the favourites, won the match by a margin of 37 runs – they scored 209 and Afghanistan 172. But it is minnows Afghanistan who won the hearts. They had given a good account of themselves against Sri Lanka; Sunday’s match proved that a smaller force in cricket’s big arena they may be but they certainly punch well above their weight. They don’t get intimidated by reputation; nor do their own limitations bog them down.
Take out the over No.17 in the first inning, where AB de Villiers plundered 29 runs off greenhorn Rashid Khan, and for most part it was a game between equals. Afghanistan looked the better side for most part against Sri Lanka too. They won’t go far in this World Cup -- the two losses have virtually sealed their fate -- but Afghans can go back home with heads held high. The Asian teams should be wary of the arrival of a new challenger. Afghanistan have the core right; they only need an all-round scale up.
South Africa, on the other hand, should be deeply worried. They scored 229 against England the other day and the target was chased down. On Sunday, they posted 209 and minnows Afghanistan threatened to overhaul it. Their batsmen have been in great touch with all the big guns firing alright, the 200-plus scored were posted on batting-friendly conditions, but you still need your best to deliver to get there.
Every individual in the batting unit including Hashim Amla, Quinton de Cock, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy has been among runs. However, in a format meant to be dominated by batsmen their effort is not proving enough.
The bowling unit, despite all those big names, has failed to rise above mediocrity. That all bowlers, including the great Dale Steyn, are being treated with some disdain by rivals – Jason Roy, Alex Hales and Joe Root clobbered them earlier, Mohammed Shahzad took them to the cleaners yesterday – should give the think-tank sleepless nights. If South Africa fail to make it to the last four despite being the best squad on paper, it would be solely because of their ineffective bowlers.
The 20-year old Kasigo Rabada comes across as a kid just out of school and batsmen have been treating him as one. Steyn has lost respect among rivals – Shahzad said on Sunday that the bowler is not dangerous and he was unhappy that Steyn was not playing.
Kyle Abbott is getting the same treatment as Rabada and David Wiese does not seem to have the bite. Chris Morris and spinner Imran Tahir came good yesterday but that is hardly a solace when others are not doing well enough.
Over-reliance on pace appears to be their undoing. As you watch them hurl the ball after ball at great speed it becomes obvious that they are still stuck in the Test cricket mode. Conspicuously absent are efforts at reading the batsman’s game and attempts at subtle variation. Twenty20 cricket is partly a mind game. It requires bowlers to think on their feet. South African bowlers are proving deficient here. And they don’t seem to have a plan B for situations.
What the team needs is introspection and quick correctives to the bowling problem. Otherwise, the Proteas kiss good-bye to the Cup.