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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Time to bloom and break that Cup bogey, Proteas

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Barely 18 months ago, South African cricket was in a perilous state. In sync with the state of the nation, nobody trusted an organisation that had become synonymous with maladministration.

Sponsors were taking their coinage elsewhere, and the game was on the brink of bankruptcy.

With the boardroom collapsing, the knock-on effect of it was most felt by the Proteas’ men’s national team as their results – or rather lack thereof – began reflecting the overall nosedive.

And then something happened. Hard decisions were taken by a new set of suits, which almost put the Proteas’ automatic Cricket Cup qualification in jeopardy, but was ultimately necessary to keep the lights on at their Illovo offices.

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All the right moves

Along with the birth of Betway SA20 – Cricket SA’s new love child – and its subsequent overwhelming success, they also appointed a fresh set of coaches, with Rob Walter and Shukri Conrad taking over the white and red-ball teams respectively.

However, the most telling decision was to provide their most prized asset, Temba Bavuma, with clearly defined roles of leading only the ODI and Test teams.

The turnaround has been remarkable. Astounding, in fact. And it is almost impossible to fathom that Bavuma’s Proteas are set to face arch-rivals Australia at the citadel of Indian cricket, Eden Gardens, on Thursday (10.30am SA time start), and are now within touching distance of a historic first-ever place in an Cricket Cup final against India, who beat New Zealand on Wednesday.

Bavuma is cognisant of all the excitement around Thursday’s semi-final, but knows his team have not achieved anything just yet.

“With the way we’ve performed as a team, it’s obviously created a lot of positive sentiment, but obviously high expectation. A lot of people believe that this could be the year that we see ourselves within the final. And I mean, look as a team, individually we’d like nothing better than that,” the skipper said on Wednesday.

“There’s a sense of calmness within the team and obviously the normal level of anxiety that you would expect going into the game. But I think we’ll take a lot of confidence with our performances up until this point.”

There is a twist to this potentially fairytale script, though. It has yet to be confirmed whether Bavuma will take his place at the helm to steer the Proteas’ ship through the expected choppy semi-final waters.

He is still undergoing rehab on his hamstring strain sustained in the last match against Afghanistan.

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‘Quite confident’

“Physically I feel alright. Obviously not 100%,” Bavuma said. “So obviously this day (Wednesday) becomes important in terms of the decision about tomorrow (Thursday).

“It’s obviously an important day, and I will use it as best as I can to make sure that I’m close to my best from a physical point of view. I’m quite confident, but it’s not a unilateral decision that will be made.”

With Bavuma’s availability still in limbo, the focus switches to the rest of the playing XI, with the Proteas expected to field both spinners, Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi.

The skipper was unable to confirm any tactical planning, but admitted there was still conjecture over the make-up of the pace attack, with young gun Gerald Coetzee – who is South Africa’s leading wicket taker at this Cup – pushing the more experienced Lungi Ngidi hard for a starting place.

“I’d love to say … I mean, if it is up to me, I’m definitely playing our two front-line spinners. Obviously, Keshav and Shamsi. We obviously have Aiden (Markram) as well, who also gives us an option there. Then I think it’s just finalising in terms of the three seamers, whoever that may be,” Bavuma said.

The right-handed batter and the rest of the Proteas are in the privileged position of being able to rewrite history today at Eden Gardens. It will take plenty of skill and tactical astuteness, but ultimately it will come down to how they cope with that ugly ‘P’ word.

“I think I’ve said this quite a lot: the pressure is always there,” Bavuma exclaimed.

“There’s been an acknowledgement of the emotions. I don’t think you can deny or run away with that, but there’s also been, I guess, solutions or mechanisms that have been given as to how to deal with that anxiety if you feel that it overwhelms yourself.

“I think that advice also flows to the senior players. I think there’s only two guys in this group that have gone into a semi-final – Quinton (de Kock) and David Miller – so there’s not a lot of experience from all the other guys.

“But yeah, there’s been that acknowledgement of those emotions as well as, I guess, solutions and mechanisms.”

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Squads For Kolkata

South Africa: Temba Bavuma (captain), Gerald Coetzee, Quinton de Kock, Reeza Hendricks, Marco Jansen, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, David Miller, Lungi Ngidi, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Rassie van der Dussen, Lizaad Williams.

Australia: Pat Cummins (captain), Steve Smith, Alex Carey, Josh Inglis, Sean Abbott, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, David Warner, Adam Zampa, Mitchell Starc.

@ZaahierAdams

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