Ahead of South Africa v Afghanistan, Pieter Swanepoel gives us his views on the mood in the Proteas’ camp.
South Africa v Afghanistan the first of five finals
After the washed-out game against the West Indies on Monday in Southampton, the Proteas effectively have five cup finals in the World Cup.
The first of them is on Saturday against Afghanistan. No-one is doubting the difference in quality between the two teams as a whole but it begs the question ahead of two out-of-form teams playing each other: would you rather back South Africa at 1.14 to do what is expected of them or Afghanistan at a best price of 6.5 with Unibet to cause an upset?
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That these are five finals was the message from Faf du Plessis, whose team is in a precarious position with just a single point after four matches played in the tournament.Du Plessis has also pledged his support for veteran opening batsman Hashim Amla to find his form at the World Cup.
Although the match against the West Indies was abandoned after just 7.3 overs, there was enough time for West Indian paceman Sheldon Cottrell to dismiss both Hashim Amla (6 off 7) and the recalled Aiden Markram (5 off 10), to leave the Proteas delicately placed on 29/2. Amla has endured a stop-start CWC19, after being hit on the head by England paceman Jofra Archer in the opening game at The Oval. He missed the next match against Bangladesh, but has now failed in both matches at the Rose Bowl.
Du Plessis believes the conditions in Southampton, where it has been gloomy and overcast, have provided the seam bowlers with plenty of assistance.
What on earth is South Africa’s best XI?
There was plenty of consternation surrounding Amla’s initial inclusion in the Proteas’ 15-man World Cup squad, with some critics believing that the 36-year-old should have been left out with Highveld Lions opener Reeza Hendricks given the gig.
With South Africa’s entire World Cup campaign balancing on a tightrope, du Plessis feels that Amla will get back to form before it’s too late.
Lately, it has become clear that the South African selectors are no closer to knowing what their best XI at the CWC19 are among the 15 players in the squad – although one assumes the recovering Lungi Ngidi would be in their preferred XI.
The selectors know that the nucleus of the best XI are the following six players, who have also started all four matches thus far – Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, Rassie van der Dussen, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada and Imran Tahir.
Looking at the batting scores of Amla, JP Duminy and Aiden Markram thus far, it hardly inspires the still awaiting matches against, among others, New Zealand and Australia, later on in the tournament.
JP Duminy has had a particularly tricky time in England. After 22 English-staged ODIs, stretching back 12 years to 2007, Duminy scored 337 runs at an average of 21.06.
He registered successive scores at the CWC19 of eight (England), 45 (Bangladesh) and three (India). Against India, he fell prey to an old personal shortcoming, against quality spin, of being trapped leg before wicket on the back foot.
Only making matters worse for Duminy, is that captain Faf du Plessis appears to have lost faith in his part-time off-spin – something often submitted as justification for keeping him in the team.
Confidence and tension issues in the South Africa camp
Dale Benkenstein, batting coach of the Proteas, has reportedly admitted that the tension of the World Cup has played a pivotal role in the poor performance of the team thus far.
The lack of confidence has obviously filtered through to the pitch, with Quinton de Kock’s 68 against England remaining South Africa’s top score in the competition.
Beckenstein believes there is technically nothing he can do to remedy the situation and is constantly offering mental advice to try and help the batsmen.
According to him, it is that calming influence that is most needed if the Proteas are to have more than just a passing interest for the remainder of this World Cup.
Head coach Ottis Gibson’s pre-tournament plan was built on the strength of his bowling attack.
That plan required the top six to contribute with runs, in order for it to work.
South Africa v Afghanistan Betting
In the four matches South Africa has played, the top six have averaged just 27.35 at a strike rate of 82.87. Only Sri Lanka and Afghanistan have worst numbers. South Africa’s highest partnership in that time is 85.
Quinton de Kock is their leading runscorer on 118 and priced up at 2.9 to finish the tournament as their top batsman. To put things into perspective, England have three batsmen on more than that.
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Next up for the Proteas is an assignment against bottom-of-the-log Afghanistan in Cardiff on Saturday. One can assume a fit Ngidi will return and Amla should get a game as well. Miller, I believe, might just be one good knock away from finding something like his best form
The twin spin threat of Afghanistan, Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, are ranked third and 12th respectively on the ICC UDI bowling charts. If the weather allows a full game, that means at least 20 overs of world-class spin; it will present a prospect that will not sit easily with Proteas fans, desperate for something to pin their hopes on. A third spinner, Mohammad Nabi, might be the one to look at from a betting perspective, though.
He’s just as capable as the two youngsters just mentioned and a much bigger price than the more famous Rashid Khan a 4.5 with Betfair Sportsbook.
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South Africa can now only reach a maximum of 11 points should they win their remaining five matches.
In other news…
Finally, concern has been expressed that the Associated Nations – teams like the Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland, Nepal, Oman, Hong Kong and Zimbabwe – are being left out of world cricket’s great big party, the CWC19. Keep in mind, however, that 2020’s ICC T20 World Cup will feature the 10 big boys you are watching at the 50-over event, plus six giant-killers-in-waiting.