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What do South Africa look like for the Semi Finals?

Mark Horowitz Mar 23, 2015 No Comment 64,468 views

Ah, the Proteas are here; they are in one more semi final of a World Cup. But, there is a slight difference here. In all World Cups where South Africa have made the semi final, they have come straight off the group stage of the tournament. In this case though, South Africa have shed their chokers tag, even if just slightly, and are here on the back of their first win in a knockout World Cup game.

The Proteas humbled Sri Lanka and put to end fantastic careers of two of the modern legends of the game we all love. Kumar Sangakkara & Mahela Jayawardene have played their last in Sri Lankan colours. Kumar though will continue in the Test arena until August where he will call quits on International cricket.

South Africa look well oiled heading into their semi final encounter against New Zealand. The only hitch for them though is the fact that they are playing in Auckland as opposed to a ground in Australia. De Villiers and co have been an inspired lot this tournament and their skipper has talked up their chances. They have repeatedly said that they are just 10 days away from potentially being World Cup holders. Here is a look at South Africa’s chances, a little analysis of their squad and the resources they have at their disposal as they prepare to take on New Zealand in the World Cup semi finals.

Strengths

Captaincy

Amongst the many strengths that South Africa have to display AB de Villiers’ captaincy has been a real revelation for them this tournament. Hashim Amla should count himself lucky that he got elected as Test captain before this World Cup. His aggressive attitude & bullish press conferences about the team has really lead the way. De Villiers’ contribution has been more notable off the field than on it. While his captaincy has been generally good with aggressive field placements and timely bowling changes; the presence of calm that he has brought to the side has made the difference. Michael Clarke spoke about how the Australian team is not putting the World Cup on a pedestal, and that is exactly what AB de Villiers and his unit are doing.

I keep harping on this but right through their cricketing history; South Africa have always had a fantastic team but the pressure of performance in a crunch situation is what usually brings the Proteas down; which brought the ‘chokers’ tag upon them. Just some of the things that AB has said this tournament can tell us the mood in their team and how positive the South Africans are at the point.

“We are the best team in the tournament” when they were losing; to “We are not going to choke” & “We could be World Cup winners in 10 days”; AB de Villiers’ at the moment wears the face of a winner. If de Villiers can keep it together and hold his team; South Africa have the squad to go all the way. His captaincy, on and off the field will go a long way into determining whether South Africa can leave the chokers tag behind, for good.

AB de Villiers 

AB de Villiers is the No.1 One Day International batsmen; and arguably one of the most complete batsman of his generation. The only player in the world could play 360 degrees consistently, de Villiers has lived up to all the hype and expectations before coming into the tournament. His stats alone read:

Innings No. of Runs Average Strike Rate 50+ Scores
6 417 83.40 144.29 3

For a man to average close to 84, at a strike rate of 145 in 6 games shows his class.

AB de Villiers in his whirlwind 150 against the West Indies
AB de Villiers in his whirlwind 150 against the West Indies

He has been South Africa’s best batsman this tournament by a mile. The only criticism, I would have of him is his tendency to bat a little too low for the calibre of batsman he is. No. 5 is probably a little low in the pecking order for a champion player. Most teams have their best players in the top 4 if not 3. Nonetheless, he has played the role of a finisher to perfection.

His innings against the West Indies showcased his versatility, and the loss of his wicket against India & Pakistan spelt disaster for South Africa. The Proteas will be hoping de Villiers’ good form continues as they head towards the crucial end of the tournament & South Africa can turn a corner in their cricketing history.

Hashim Amla 

Hashim Amla has been South Africa’s iceman over the last couple of years. Amongst the big names, in, AB de Villiers, David Miller, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Amla’s contributions were not regarded till a few months ago. Only recently did the World sit up and notice this man as he strolled past Virat Kohli to become the fastest man to 20 One Day International centuries.

Amla has not got too much support opening the batting with Quinton de kock often being dismissed in the first few overs of the game. Hashim has had to steady the ship and has done so consistently. Here are what his numbers look like in this tournament:

Innings No. of Runs Average Strike Rate 50+ Scores
7 323 46.14 96.13 2

Hashim Amla is the sort of guy you want batting in crunch situations; his temperament and experience could be the key for South Africa. Having said this Amla has not been too great in knockout encounters in the past. In fact, Amla averages only 18 in knockout games. That is 1/3rd of what he averages in International ODI Cricket. He & South Africa will be hoping that all this can change come the game against New Zealand.

Imran Tahir

10 years ago, no one  would have imagined that a wrist spinner would be South Africa’s highest wicket taker in a World Cup in Australia & New Zealand; but, Imran Tahir the Pakistan born, South African leg spinner has held the spinners flag up this tournament.

What has been great to see about Tahir is the drift he has rediscovered. There was a time in between a couple of years ago where he was just tossing the ball but boy haven’t things changed. Tahir has never been a big turner of his stock delivery, but his use of crease, changes of pace, googly and flipper have been fantastic to watch this World Cup. He is the tournament's joint-leading wicket taker as far as spinners are concerned. He shares that space with Daniel Vettori. Here are what his numbers look like:

Innings Wickets Economy Rate Strike Rate 4 + Wickets
7 15 4.20 18.86 2

He will be a real asset against New Zealand. Historically, New Zealand do not play spin too well, more so wrist spinners. It will interesting to see how AB de Villiers chooses to use him. Tahir can be as much an attacking option as he could, defensive. If Brendon McCullum or Martin Guptill tee off early on in the piece, de Villiers has a definite trump card that he can fall back on.

Morne Morkel

Big Morne Morkel has done wonderfully well this World Cup and has outshone his champion fast bowling partner, Dale Steyn. Morkel has extracted bounced and nip in a fashion not many bowlers have done. With Tim Southee, Trent Boult & Mitchell Starc all pitching it up and swinging it; Morkel has extracted awkward bounce and seam to trouble batsmen. Morkel is a real hit the deck type bowler and the Australian conditions with hard wickets have suited his style of bowling perfectly.

It will be interesting to see how he goes about doing his business against New Zealand in conditions conducive to more swing than bounce specifically. Apart from bounce, Morne has worked up some serious steam too this World Cup often beating Dale Steyn. Here is what he has done this World Cup.

Innings Wickets Economy Rate Strike Rate 4 + Wickets
7 14 4.05 17.14 -

Despite not getting big wicket hauls, his consistent contributions have formed the perfect foil to Imran Tahir & to an extent Dale Steyn.

Fielding

South Africa’s fielding this World Cup has been outstanding. Perhaps as good as New Zealand & the Kiwis have been super human on the field. That inner pack that South Africa have going in the first few overs is really daunting. It really does work as a standout strength for teams like New Zealand & the Proteas. This is not to say that Australia and India have not been upto the mark, but the Proteas & Kiwis have been unreal. Game after game South Africa have saved 20-30 runs in the field comfortably.

The inner pack as I mentioned earlier, includes the likes of AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy & David Miller have set the standards incredibly high. The smooth one motion pick up and throw has made for great viewing. It is right at this hour of the tournament when fielding like this ends up being the difference between to teams that are neck to neck. A couple of close run outs or plucking a Dan Vettori out of thin air could be the difference between going over the line & not. What will make for fantastic viewing is both the best fielding sides of the tournament in South Africa and New Zealand will be playing against each other.

Weaknesses & Opportunities

Opening Combination
 

South Africa’s opening duo has been their achilees heel this tournament. Quinton de kock has been woefully out of form, so much so that suggestions have come in that AB de Villiers should go back to assuming wicket keeping duties and South Africa must play an extra batter instead. Personally believe that de Kock is a fantastic addition to this South African line up. Very early on in the piece have seen Faf du Plessis come in and reconstruct the innings with Hashim Amla. As a result of this, Faf has been unable to play his natural game until things settle down. Here is what South Africa’s opening combination have done in this tournament:

Game No. Match Opening Partnership Quinton de kock’s Scores
1 South Africa vs Zimbabwe 10 7
2 South Africa vs India 12 7
3 South Africa vs West Indies 18 12
4 South Africa vs Ireland 12 1
5 South Africa vs Pakistan 0 0
6 South Africa vs UAE 17 26
7 South Africa vs Sri Lanka 40 78

AB de Villiers has continued to back him despite all the fingers raised. To be fair, de Kock did show some signs of form in the last game with a quick fire 78 when South Africa were chasing a small target in their quarter final match against the Lankans. Who knows, maybe finals time he will come good & repay AB’s faith, much like Adam Gilchrist did in the 2007 edition of the World Cup.

Chasing

South Africa have been poor chasers this World Cup. In games batting first they have not had too much of an issue and their strong batting line up has usually posted huge scores. If New Zealand bat first and put on a big total, they may have South Africa under the pump. The proteas themselves like the Kiwis are yet to make the finals of this tournament, and a couple of early strikes could mean for serious trouble. In the 7 games that South Africa have played in the tournament; they have batted first on 4 occasions.

On all those 4 occasions they comfortably scored in excess of 300 even if it was agains the likes of Zimbabwe (339), West Indies (408), Ireland (411) & UAE (341).

On the other 3 occasions, they played the big guns, India, Pakistan & Sri Lanka. Let’s take Sri Lanka out of the equation because Lanka capitulated at the hands of the South African bowlers and only managed a meagre 130 odd as a target for the Proteas to hunt down.

In those games against India and Pakistan, they were set a target of 308 and 223 respectively. You would expect a strong South African unit much favoured to win this World Cup to do better than 177 despite India’s recent bowling prowess. And, against a mercurial Pakistan side who had been trounced by India & West Indies, South Africa came short of 223 and succumbed for 202. The difference in both these games, and where the game was lost was AB de Villiers. It is imperative for South Africa that de Villiers fires more importantly when the Proteas are chasing. If I was New Zealand I would be batting first regardless of what the wicket or conditions have to offer.

5th bowler concern

South Africa’s 5th bowler could be their weakness when they come up against a powerful New Zealand batting line up. Let us face it, Sri Lanka with all their injuries, did not have a power game to challenge South Africa. But, New Zealand do. Despite JP Duminy picking up an unlikely unnoticed hat trick & exceeding all expectations, you could expect the lower middle order of the New Zealand batting line up to take the attack to him.

In this tournament, here is what South Africa’s 5th bowler has done:

No. of overs Wickets Runs conceded Economy Bowlers
62 9 338 5.5 AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, RR Rossouw, F Behardien

It is not so much the runs conceded as it is the confusion that exists. Simply looking at that list, you can tell how unsettled that 5th bowler looks for South Africa. Having said that those figures seem largely improved due to games against Associate nations. Apart from Sri Lanka, India & Pakistan battered these bowlers when they came on.

Threats

The threat more or less offers a conclusion to this little analysis. The conditions, playing in New Zealand, the ground size that New Zealand have played so well on and the crowd support could really turn up against South Africa. New Zealand have been on a roll this tournament. And, to be honest, if you do break both these teams out individually and compare them, paper to paper, South Africa do appear the better team. In the long haul, if they were playing a One Day International series somewhere you would have to give it to this South African unit but, the mood, just the mood that the whole country of New Zealand is, the form and mood that this team is in, the self belief that Brendon McCullum has instilled in them is really really going to make it difficult for the Proteas.

Form and conditions offer a huge threat to South Africa more than game play.

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