South Africa face their future on Friday when they tackle the West Indies in their third game of the ICC T20 World Cup at the VCA Stadium in Nagpur, India. Lose and they will almost certainly face an early elimination before the semifinal stage.
Having scored a record total of 229-4 against England and failed to defend it with embarrassingly dated bowling tactics and woeful indiscipline that yielded 20 wides – another record – the Proteas were left staggering once again in the second game against minnows Afghanistan, who reached 105-2 at the start of the 11th over in pursuit of 210 for victory. It was a winning platform. Only the opposing team’s inexperience spared the Proteas’ blushes.
If the West Indies can be vanquished, which seems unlikely in a format that might have been designed for them and in which they thrive, the Proteas will still need to beat Sri Lanka in the final game on Monday to be sure of qualifying for the semifinals without the aid of a highly unlikely backdoor entry by superior run-rate in the event of two or even three teams finishing in a tie.
If South Africa exit yet another ICC event at the group stage the calamitous loss to England will be to blame, but at least a a path to redemption remains. To beat the West Indies, the Proteas will need to concentrate on certain areas.
Dale Steyn vs Chris Gayle: The decision to drop the leader of the bowling attack, Dale Steyn, against Afghanistan was bold. It sent a message. He conceded 35 runs in just two overs against England. He had a catch dropped in his first over, which may have changed everything, but it was still a wretched display.
But he is still, for now, the bowling “boss” and needs to be given the support and respect he deserves. Gayle is as totemic for the Caribbean islanders as AB de Villiers is for South Africa. Knock him over early and much of the job may be done. If Gayle wins, so be it. But back your best man to win: that’s why he was selected.
Steyn has happy memories of the Vidarbha Cricket Association and is desperate to play. “Selection will be interesting. In previous games here in Nagpur I’ve played well, pretty much always at my best, actually,” he said earlier this week. “We had a famous Test win when I took my career-best 7-51 and then we had another memorable win against India during the 2011 World Cup, when I was man of the match with 5-50.
“I’ve also taken wickets here during the [Indian Premier League], so I can only hope that I get the nod for the final XI on Friday and that some of that success continues,” Steyn said.
New Zealand made the astonishing and brave decision to drop their two best fast bowlers for their opening game against India. They played no fewer than three specialist spinners and bowled the hosts out for 79 to win easily. South Africa do not even have three spinners and cannot follow similar tactics.
Imran Tahir: Captain Faf du Plessis knows as well as anyone how and when to use his prized asset and, once again, the leg spinner is shaping up to be a key man. He is at his most effective when the opposition batsmen need to score significantly against him rather than simply take singles.
Du Plessis prefers not to use him during the power play but if the West Indies make the same flying start as England and Afghanistan did, he may have to revisit that strategy and gamble.
Batting order: JP Duminy will almost certainly not recover from a hamstring strain in time for the game, leaving Rilee Rossouw or Farhaan Behardien to take his place. Both men are capable of quick scoring but both have also suffered the ignominy of being unable to hit the ball off the square. In the deciding T20 international against Australia at Newlands the day before the teams flew to India, Rossouw contributed a match-losing 16 from 21 balls.
The Proteas have a history of having the wrong men at the crease at the wrong time. There has been a reluctance to be flexible with the batting order, as well as further reluctance by individuals to follow the simple premise “hit out or get out” when there are better equipped stroke makers and power hitters sitting in the dugout.
A simple guideline would be: De Villiers is the next man in after five overs have been bowled and David Miller is the next man in with five overs left.
Aaron Phangiso: The left-arm spinner has had a tough season, both on and off the field. His escapades include being thrown off an international flight for being drunk and disorderly, feigning cocaine snorting in the dugout during a T20 international, and then being reported for “chucking” and having to remodel his action at the ripe old age of 32.
He has been selected and used solely as backup to Tahir for the past two years, but now is the time to select him in tandem with the leg spinner.
Sure, it may be a risk trusting that his action will withstand the pressure of a big match and his inclusion will weaken the batting, but he is the second-best limited-overs spinner in the country, he was selected and is there – so he must play.