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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Proteas much-maligned bowling unit growing in stature at Cup

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Bar the Netherlands stumble, when the altitude in the hills of Dharamshala suffocated the Proteas, South Africa haven’t started an ICC Cricket Cup with such dominance since 1996.

But even then, when the Proteas stormed through to the quarter-finals unbeaten before a Brian Lara blitz hurriedly ended their campaign, the victory margins of 102 (Sri Lanka), 134 (Australia), 229 (England) and 149 (Bangladesh) were not as comprehensive as they’ve been in India.

The curtain has been well and truly lifted on the Proteas’ attempt to stay under the radar leading into this Cup.

The batters are all the rage, with six centuries already split between an in-form top-order who are capturing everyone’s imagination with their ability to set it all up, before exploding into a six-hitting bonanza during the final 10 overs.

South Africa currently have the highest run-rate of 12.28 during this period at the Cup. The next best is New Zealand with 8.16.

Equally, their much-maligned bowling unit are growing in stature after every performance.

The collective ability to strike in the PowerPlay has been invaluable and as a result have three fast bowlers – Kagiso Rabada, Marco Jansen and Gerald Coetzee – with 10 wickets apiece, which is just two shy of the tournament’s leading wicket-taker, New Zealand left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner.

With their net run-rate also having sky-rocketed in the process, this has left the Proteas possibly requiring only two victories from their four remaining round-robin matches against Pakistan in Chennai tomorrow (10.30am), New Zealand (Pune, November 1), India (Kolkata, November 5) and Afghanistan (Ahmedabad, November 10) to qualify for the semi-finals.

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But it seems that the Proteas have learnt their lessons from past Cups, with stand-in skipper Aiden Markram – who deputised for Temba Bavuma the past two matches in Mumbai – not wanting to look any further than facing a Pakistan team that are desperate to cling on to any remaining semi-final qualification hopes after three early defeats.

“I think that’s a pretty dangerous place to be, to be honest,” Markram said about the prospect of looking ahead to a potential semi-final already.

“I don’t think you want to start trying to do maths this far out.

“There are still four games of cricket and that’s potentially eight points up for grabs. That’s what we’re going to try to push for.

“I think if you start sitting and hoping for a result from this team and trying to work out ‘we maybe only need two wins left’ or whatever it is … I don’t think that’s a great place to be as a unit, so I’m sure we’ll stay far away from that and focus on the very next game and try to back up performances that we’ve put in.”

Equally, there is also the concern that the Proteas do not want to be playing their best cricket during the early stages of the tournament and should be looking to peak when the knockout stages come around in a fortnight’s time.

Again, Markram is not too concerned about the ‘uncontrollables’.

“Peaking is, suppose, a result of playing good cricket. And if we’re going into each game trying to play good cricket, then we can see where it gets us,” the right-handed batter said.

“But the things that we’ve been doing well, we’ve put a lot of emphasis on those things and those sort of processes, for lack of a better word.

“I know that word is thrown around quite a bit but that really is what it is.

“And like I’ve mentioned, for us as a batting unit, even as a bowling unit, we try to take really good options out there and make good decisions – and if those options speak to the conditions, we feel like we’ll be in the game.

“If we can do that for long periods of time and move forward each game, then we hope it puts us in a good position.”

@ZaahierAdams

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