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Sunday, April 21, 2024

The bowling attack is the Proteas’ not-so-secret weapon at the Cricket Cup

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South Africa are flexing like never before at this Cricket Cup.

In almost every game, a new set of records is shattered.

It took the batters just seven matches to club the most sixes at a Cup, with the 15 struck during Wednesday’s crushing victory over New Zealand helping them surpass England’s previous mark of 76.

In the process, they also became the first team to cross the 350-run mark in four Cup matches, while there are a host of individual feats too, such as Quinton de Kock’s four centuries and 524 runs already in the competition.

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Record-breaking partnership

The 200-run stand between De Kock and fellow centurion Rassie van der Dussen also equalled the number for most double-century partnerships (two) by a batting pair at a Cup.

From these staggering figures, it does not take an actuary to evaluate that South Africa’s strength lies with their batters.

The ICC ODI player rankings provide further evidence, with the entire top six listed among the leading 22 batters in the world and three – De Kock (3), Heinrich Klaasen (6) and Van der Dussen (9) – in the top 10.

But batters alone are not responsible for the astronomical victory margins over Sri Lanka (102), Australia (134), England (229), Bangladesh (149) and New Zealand (190).

And it would be remiss to ignore the role of the bowling unit that arrived in India very much the weakest link, particularly after the loss of fast bowlers Anrich Nortjé and Sisanda Magala to injury on the eve of their departure.

At the time, it was puzzling to see how the Proteas would replace Nortjé’s ‘X-factor’ express pace and Magala’s skills at the death.

But yet, somehow, they have found a way. Lungi Ngidi has warmed to the task of taking the new ball in place of Kagiso Rabada, and even though he doesn’t have many wickets to show for his efforts, he has set the tone perfectly with six maidens – the joint highest by a seam bowler, along with Rabada, in the tournament – to boast an economy rate of just 5.10.

Ngidi’s control has allowed his new-ball partner Marco Jansen the freedom to run in and hit the deck hard, or look to swing it when the conditions allow.

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Jansen filling Nortje’s shoes

It has proved a mightily effective combination, with Jansen taking on the mantle of strike bowler in Nortjé’s absence, and the rewards have been nothing short of astonishing.

The 2.06m left-arm seamer jointly topped the tournament’s wicket takers’ charts after his three-wicket haul against the Black Caps, but crucially, 12 of his scalps have come in the opening powerplay.

There has been no let-up for the opposition either since Rabada’s move to first change. Almost routinely, he has snared the opposition’s premier batter to follow up Jansen’s early strikes.

Youngster Gerald Coetzee has also enjoyed the licence to take over Nortjés mantle as the “aggressor”.

And while he’s been expensive on occasion, he has taken crucial wickets in the middle overs to take his tally to 14, with each one coupled with a vein-bursting celebration reminiscent of the great Dale Steyn.

In South Africa’s seven matches, including the defeat to the Dutch, the opposition have been in all sorts of trouble from the outset, with Sri Lanka (150/5), Australia (70/6), Netherlands (82/5), England (84/7), Bangladesh (81/6), Pakistan (141/5) and New Zealand (100/6) all faltering.

But it has not only been the pacemen that have done the business.

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Maharaj mastery

Keshav Maharaj has performed his role admirably as often the sole spinner, showing excellent control and guile against the Black Caps in claiming 4/46.

And when left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi joined his spin twin in the middle, he too claimed the Player of the Match honour in his last outing against Pakistan.

The only missing piece to the puzzle thus far is the fact that due to the early wickets, South Africa have not yet needed to close out a contest with a set batter at the crease exerting pressure on the bowling unit.

But with semi-final qualification already virtually secured, there’s no doubt coach Rob Walter would welcome his team being put through this test in the cauldron of Eden Gardens against hosts India on Sunday.

@ZaahierAdams

Sport

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