DHARAMSALA: South Africa are in the knockout stages. They must beat Netherlands to go through to the semi-finals and if you’d said that pre-tournament, many would have thought the conclusion foregone, but this has been a World Cup of surprises and perhaps there’s one more?
Netherlands looked to be steadily improving from the first round, when they nearly toppled Bangladesh in their Super 12 opener, but then they ran into India and Pakistan and came apart. Had they also lost to Zimbabwe, they might have considered this campaign something of a waste, but they rallied and now have the opportunity to bow out on a high – and do Pakistan a favour.
If Netherlands beat South Africa in first of three Group 2 games on Sunday, Pakistan only need to beat Bangladesh to go through to the semi-finals. If South Africa win, the result of the second match between Pakistan and Bangladesh will dictate what India have to do to ensure they qualify. That’s a lot of ifs before we even get to wondering what kind of contest this will be.
South Africa and Netherlands have only played one T20I against each other but they have some recent history. Netherlands were in South Africa for a three-match World Cup Super League ODI series last November, when the omicron variant of Covid-19 hit and they left the tour early, but not before taking 10 points off South Africa in a washed-out match. South Africa will host Netherlands again in April 2023 and those matches are crucial to ensuring their automatic qualification for the ODI World Cup so there’s some wider context to the clash. And there’s also the obvious niggle: Netherlands are coached by a South African – Ryan Cook – and have as many as four South African-born players in their squad. Even if South Africa may not know much about the Dutch approach in the shortest format, they will know plenty about the players involved.
For South Africa, their blueprint has mostly worked but there’s still work to do in the batting department. They will view this game as a final opportunity to get the likes of Temba Bavuma and Tristan Stubbs into form and a chance to make a statement about whether they can justify the favourites’ tag placed on them just a few days ago.
In a pace pack that seems to have it all, Kagiso Rabada has flown under the radar. He has taken only two wickets from four matches so far and has the highest economy rate of any of the South African bowlers. In dealing with swing from Parnell, pace from Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi’s slew of slower balls, line-ups have identified Rabada as a bowler they can target, which is unlikely to sit well with him. Although he has long shied away from being called the leader of the attack, Rabada is South Africa’s most experienced bowler, and he will want to turn in a big performance as the tournament approaches the business end.
It had to be a South African expat and though Roelof van der Merwe is the headliner, Colin Ackermann is a player many will be interested in as he plays his first T20I against his home country. Ackermann made his name as a red-ball player in South Africa and, with a first-class average over 40, there was much consternation when it turned out that he was unavailable for national selection. He hasn’t had quite the same impact in shorter formats, with just 96 runs from his four ODIs and a T20I average under 25. He has had a fairly quiet tournament so far, apart from a 62 against Bangladesh, and should see this match as a final opportunity to go out with a bang.
David Miller sat out the match against Pakistan with lower back spasms and South Africa will be keen to get him up and running as soon as he is fit. If that’s in this game, Tristan Stubbs may miss out with Heinrich Klaasen retaining his place. South Africa may also bring back Keshav Maharaj at the expense of one of the quicks.
An early start may prove challenging for the batters because the ball won’t skid on as it does at night. Expect inconsistent bounce and a slowish start, although runs may come from the short, square boundaries. The surface also won’t offer the quicks as much as some of the other venues, which could take the sting out of the contest to some degree. There’s been rain in the lead-up to this match but Sunday’s forecast is clear. AGENCIES