South Africa, like England, has a history of not playing spin well, which India will look to capitalise on
India’s fate lies almost entirely in its own hands. Fortunate enough to be playing the last Super Eights match of the ICC World Twenty20 2012, India will know precisely what the equation is as it eyes its first semi-final appearance at the ICC World Twenty20 since its unexpected triumph in South Africa in 2007.
Exactly what India will need to do will become clear after the first match on Tuesday, between Australia and Pakistan. Australia is all but through to the last four, sitting pretty on top of the Group 2 standings with an all-win record and a very healthy net run rate. If it can extend its run as the only unbeaten team in the competition, a simple win will suffice for India, which has the same points as Pakistan (2) but a slightly inferior net run rate (-0.452 as opposed to Pakistan’s -0.426).
Should Australia overpower Pakistan, then India can even afford to lose to South Africa, pointless and with an NRR of -0.605, provided it manages to keep the defeat to manageable proportions. However, if Pakistan becomes the first team to bring the Australians to its knees at the R Premadasa Stadium, then not only must India win, but also by enough against win-less South Africa to go through ahead of its subcontinental neighbours on run rate.
That’s how open Group 2 is, courtesy India’s one-sided win against Pakistan on Sunday night. Any one of India, Pakistan or South Africa can still go through if Australia downs Pakistan, and that is just the incentive South Africa, which has completely failed to do justice to its enormous skills, will need as it desperately tries to resuscitate what has been a forgettable Super Eights campaign.
Neither India nor South Africa will spend any energy over the next several hours wondering what if. Not until the end of the Australia-Pakistan game will they know what the equation is, so whatever planning transpires in the meantime will not factor in that result.
South Africa has been the big disappointment of the Super Eights despite having all the trappings of a champion outfit. It has been badly hurt by losing early wickets in both its matches – it was 28 for 2 against Pakistan, and 34 for 3 against Australia after the Power Play overs – with the result that the middle order has been unable to impose itself on the opposition bowling.
South Africa finished with totals of 133 for 6 and 146 for 5 in those two afternoon games batting first, when the pitch was perhaps at its best for batting. In a night game on Tuesday, it could find the going even more difficult, especially if it is required to chase in the last block of 20 overs on a wearing pitch.
That’s exactly what India will be hoping for, though it will also be mindful of the fact that despite the surfaces getting slower and aiding the spinners, the team batting second has won all four Super Eights games at the Premadasa. It perhaps has something to do with the fact no one has had to chase a sizeable score yet – the highest score in four matches batting first has been South Africa’s 146 – but it still doesn’t convincingly explain the ease with which targets have been scaled down, barring Pakistan’s scratchy effort against South Africa.
AB de Villiers indicated that he would make changes at the top and bring in Faf du Plessis, most likely for the misfiring Richard Levi, but India won’t be too fussed about what South Africa does. It knows that in Gary Kirsten, South Africa has a coach who knows the Indian team inside out, but it also knows that its own preparations must revolve around the plans it formulates and the weapons with which it will hit the South Africans.
That would appear a no-brainer, because India bled first England and then Pakistan dry with its assortment of spinners and change-up bowlers. Not unlike England, South Africa also has a history of not playing spin with any great assurance on a wearing surface, so the temptation to bring Harbhajan Singh back into the mix will be overwhelming. How, and whether, Mahendra Singh Dhoni can manage that without altering the balance of the team will be interesting to see, especially given how well Lakshmipathi Balaji bowled against Pakistan and how determined Virender Sehwag was to show the team what it had missed by leaving him out in the previous game against Australia.
India continues to be heavily reliant on Virat Kohli at No. 3 to shore up the innings. There is an entirely different look to its batting when Kohli is around, but the challenge for the likes of Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Dhoni will be to step up to the plate in the absence of a meaningful contribution from the form batsman.
In some ways, India has all to play for, while South Africa might have only pride at stake if Pakistan beats Australia, thereby eliminating the South Africans even before the start of its final match. That will then add a whole new dimension to a match on which so much hinges.