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Time for South Africa to sort out batting

Match against Netherlands, which is down but not out, may be best chance for team to address concerns about its starts not living up to its billing

Time for South Africa to sort out batting     - Cricket News
South Africa needs to sort out its batting plans going ahead in the tournament.
South Africa finds itself at a crossroads halfway through its ICC World Twenty20 2014 campaign. With a narrow loss to Sri Lanka and a hard fought win over New Zealand, Faf du Plessis’ men have done enough to stay alive without quite being able to seal the deal. The next task before it, a game against Netherlands at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium in Chittagong on Thursday (March 27), affords two opportunities.

With Netherlands having been blanked out by Sri Lanka, South Africa has a chance to keep the men in orange on the mat, hitting them hard from the word go and dialing the pressure up to levels the Associate team does not have much experience of. But, aside from the two points that South Africa covets with the win, the match is also a chance for it to sort out its batting plans.

The major sticking point for South Africa has been the starts. Having managed only 39 and 42 from the six powerplay overs in the first two matches, du Plessis will know that big scores can come only from back-end brilliance of the kind JP Duminy provided in the last game. But, to expect the death overs to go spectacularly day-in and day-out is a risky strategy.

South Africa has stated its preference for keeping wickets in hand up front and constructing the innings in a more traditional manner than other teams who go bang-bang from the outset, but this is not an argument that has won over all sceptics. Having players of the calibre of AB de Villiers and du Plessis in the top order and yet attempting to play time because it doesn’t want its lower order to be exposed too early is a conservative strategy to say the least.

The difficulty for South Africa is that it has assigned Hashim Amla a very set role, that of giving the innings substance and backbone. While Amla is not a tonker of the ball, his career T20 International strike rate of 135.42 tells you he’s no slouch with the bat either. But, at the fall of early wickets, Amla retreats further into his shell, and while this might be a sensible course of action in conditions that are loaded in favour of the opening bowlers, it is a dangerous one to employ in Chittagong.

In the match against New Zealand, the shortcomings of South Africa’s approach were highlighted when even a total of 170 was only defended thanks to an incredible spell of 4-0-17-4 from Dale Steyn. That New Zealand managed to get within two runs of the target despite such a spell is a pointer to the fact that no target is particularly safe in good batting conditions.

The match against Netherlands provides an opportunity for South Africa’s batsmen to really stretch themselves and see where this gets them. Making plans and calculations in strategy sessions is one thing, but the only way South Africa can unlock its fullest potential is if it gives it a fair go in a match situation. 

Naturally, there can be no room for complacency, given Netherlands’ astonishing chase against Ireland, and this is no warm-up match. That said, if the South African top order does not have a full go here, where are they going to do so?

For the Dutch, the challenge is a vastly different one. Peter Borren, the proud and outspoken captain of  Netherlands, insisted that his team was not here to merely make up the numbers. Straight after the loss to Sri Lanka, Borren made it clear that there would be no recalibration of targets for his team. Borren insisted that the ambition of knocking over a full-member nation was alive in his team, and a safety-first option where avoiding embarrassment was the primary aim, was out of the question.

What the Dutch will have to watch out for, however, is the ball stopping and coming onto the bat as the pitches grow slower with repeated use. Against Sri Lanka, Netherlands top order was repeatedly guilty of committing too early to big shots, and now that they have had a chance to introspect, and put in more training sessions at the venue, there are no excuses left. Three chances remain for Netherlands to show that the Sri Lanka match was an aberration, and the sooner it puts its best foot forward, the easier the path will become.

Teams (from):

South Africa:
Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers (wk), JP Duminy, Beuran Hendricks, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Albie Morkel, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Aaron Phangiso, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.

Netherlands: Peter Borren (capt), Wesley Barresi (wk), Mudassar Bukhari, Ben Cooper, Tom Cooper, Tom Heggleman, Ahsan Malik, Vivian Kingma, Stephan Myburgh, Michael Rippon, Pieter Seelaar, Michael Swart, Eric Szwarczynski, Logan van Beek, Timm van der Gugten.

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