T20 World Cup: Attack is the best plan for South Africa

England’s Jos Buttler has been in rollicking form. — AP
England’s Jos Buttler has been in rollicking form. — AP

Bengaluru - Sri Lanka’s knockout blow to the West Indies leaves Australia and South Africa vying for one semifinal spot from the group

By Sumit Chakraberty

Published: Fri 5 Nov 2021, 11:59 PM

It’s make or break day for Group 1 in the T20 World Cup. Sri Lanka’s knockout blow to the West Indies on Thursday leaves two teams vying for one semifinal spot from the group: Australia, and South Africa. Both will be in action on Saturday, with Australia playing the West Indies in a day game in Abu Dhabi, while South Africa clash with table-toppers England in the evening in Sharjah. Here’s what South Africa have to do to turn the tables on Australia in the qualifying stakes:


England are already through with four wins out of four matches. So it’s really Australia vs South Africa, although they’re in separate games. They’re tied on points, but Australia have the higher net run rate, thanks to a huge win over Bangladesh. Now, if the Aussies lose to the West Indies, South Africa will just have to beat England to qualify; otherwise they will have to win by a substantial margin. So, they will set their game plan according to what happens in the earlier Australia-Windies match. South Africa have a legacy of messing up a Duckworth-Lewis target calculation in the 2003 ODI World Cup. They will have to calibrate this one just right.


The main threat in the English batting is opener Jos Buttler who made an unbeaten century against Sri Lanka in Sharjah earlier this week. South Africa’s best recourse is to get him out instead of trying to contain him. Kagiso Rabada has had the better of Buttler in the past, and Anrich Nortje has struck a purple patch. Hostile spells from the South African pacers with slips in place will be the brave move, even though the Sharjah pitch is slow. Buttler doesn’t have a great Test record, and one reason is that bowlers are in attack mode there with fielders in catching positions, unlike the defensive setup in the shorter formats. A Test match opening spell is what’s needed.


The chink in England’s armour is spin, with only Buttler appearing to have overcome his earlier vulnerability by adopting a crouched stance when he faces spinners. It seems to give him leverage for lofted shots, apart from a better assessment of length. But South Africa’s two left-arm spinners Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj will fancy their chances against most of the England batsmen on a pitch that has some turn. From England’s point of view, a smart move will be to promote left-hander Moeen Ali in the batting order to attack the spinners.


South Africa are equally vulnerable to spin, which was evident when three wickets by Sri Lankan leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga de Silva almost derailed a modest run chase in Sharjah. England have two leg-spinners in Adil Rashid and part-timer Liam Livingstone, who have both been taking wickets in the tournament. The best ploy for the South African batsmen would again be the braver option of attacking the leggies, instead of allowing them to settle on a challenging line and length. The short boundaries in Sharjah will help the more venturesome batsmen. Left-handed David Miller could be promoted in the batting order to carry on the good work he did in closing out the Sri Lankan game.


South Africa’s experienced opener Quinton de Kock, is yet to find his old touch. He has been under stress in the tournament, missing a game after being directed at the last minute to make a symbolic gesture against racism. Earlier in the year too, he took a break after a stint as captain of South Africa in all three formats. Now the Proteas need their former match-winner to come good in the do-or-die game on Saturday.

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru. Write to him at chakraberty@gmail.com

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