/ 12 June 2024

T20 World Cup: Thrilling low-scoring matches, surprising upsets, and South Africa’s rollercoaster journey

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South Africa's Keshav Maharaj reacts after dismissing Bangladesh's Tanzim Hasan Sakib during the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024 group D cricket match between South Africa and Bangladesh at Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in East Meadow, New York on June 10, 2024. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)

In the last few years I have started playing cricket again, having previously done so seriously at school level. 

I play in a league called Last Man Stands, a fun social T20 league that is a somewhat shortened version of the real thing. 

Often, our games are played at Zoo Lake’s cricket pitch. That pitch is a lucky packet – balls bouncing in a similar region will either pop past your head or crawl past the ankle.

Watching some of the Cricket World Cup games in the US feels similar to that. 

There has been some criticism about the pitches – balls turning, popping of a length and some swing means a tournament of low scores. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

As players and coaches have quipped, massive scores are not needed for thrilling games. Look at the South African games and India vs Pakistan. All were low-scoring yet pulsating at the same time, down-to-the-wire type matches.

Scotland has been this year’s surprise package, they look likely to qualify for the super eight at England’s expense. The US also set the world alight by defeating Pakistan. Another shocking tournament for England seems to be on the cards after the poor World Cup last year in the 50 over format. 

Once again Australia seems to be flying. What is it about those Aussies and their big match temperament at these tournaments? The high flying Travis Head must certainly be the most exciting opener in world cricket at the moment. They hammered England in their group match.

India is always worth keeping an eye on. The inimitable Jasprit Bumrah and Virat Kohli will be key for them. They defeated Pakistan defending a low total. The less said about Pakistan, the better. But they may still qualify with some luck, despite losses to the US and India. 

As for South Africa, let’s dive in. The most recent match against Bangladesh had our fans watching with heart in mouth. 

In the brilliant clash against Bangladesh, the Proteas defended a paltry 113. The Tigers managed an impressive bowling performance restricting the Proteas to 113. Heinrich Klaasen impressed with the bat once again and scored 46 from 44 balls putting on a solid stand with talismanic David Miller. Yet despite their efforts, the Proteas were not able to put up a high total.

Given how the pitches have been shaping up this tournament, and the impressive bowling performances from the Protea bowling force, they would have no doubt thought it defendable. And that’s just what they did, but not without drama and a match that had eyes glued to the screen. 

Bangladesh looked all set for the win with three overs to go. With six wickets in hand and only 20 runs to get with two set batsmen, it looked like a first loss in the tournament for the Proteas. That was, until the ever-reliable Kagiso Rabada stood up. In the 18th over he managed to concede only two runs and took the wicket of Towhid Hridoy, who top-scored for Bangladesh with 37. 

But it was contentious — given out LBW to a ball that looked like it was sliding down leg. The decision review system (DRS) showed the ball was clipping the stumps and stuck with the umpire’s decision. Only a few balls before, another suspect decision was handed down and reversed by the third umpire at the expense of much-needed leg byes. 

Bangladesh had every right to feel hard done by yet, still, the game was in their hands with Keshav Maharaj bowling the last over needing to defend 11 runs. Having never bowled the last over in this format, the decision by skipper Aiden Markram seemed questionable. I imagine the logic behind it was to get the pace bowlers to take the game away from Bangladesh, who had done the damage, leaving Maharaj some room in the final over.

And it paid off, just. 

Maharaj started with a wide. Then came two runs which should have been a runout after a poor throw from Markram. Maharaj ended with two full tosses. He was lucky they weren’t dispatched for a maximum which would have seen Bangladesh win. Markram caught the veteran Mohammad Mahmudullah on the boundary with a spectacular effort. 

The Proteas were within a metre or two of a first-time loss to Bangladesh. The Proteas will count their lucky stars for the decisions that went their way, and Maharaj not punished with what was a fairly poor last over, and Bangladesh’s not being more clinical in the run chase. 

But there is room for optimism, grinding out wins in this way and against the Netherlands and Sri Lanka will leave fans with the familiar feeling of hope. What’s more concerning for the Proteas is the batting. The performances have been below par in all three games, aside from a select few. David Miller, so often our saviour, take a bow or raise your bat, sir.

This is a good time for fickle fans to question their racial bias. Remember all the heat Temba Bavuma got for poor performances? And the calls for him to be axed from the T20 squad before getting their wishes granted. Where are those calls for Markram? He has been dismal with the bat and has some questionable captaincy calls, especially in this last match. 

One must ask whether it was a mistake to omit Rassie Van Der Dussen from the squad. My thoughts are yes, most certainly. The man is a machine with the bat, look at the warm-up games against West Indies. 

But there’s no use crying over spilled milk or, in this case, certain runs. The Proteas need to hit the nets, and the batting coaches have their work cut out for them, especially as the tournament enters the super eight stage. 

The opposition will be tougher, and scores lower, depending on Klaasen and Miller and the reliance on the impressive pace attack of Marco Jansen, Rabada, Anrich Nortje and newcomer, Ottniel Baartman, may not cut it.