DURBAN: Shortly after midday yesterday, the groundstaff removed the covers at a gloomy Kingsmead. Beneath lay a moist, green-tinged T20 pitch that should whet the pace bowlers’ appetites in a format that is designed to suit the batsmen.
The Dolphins recently clouted 214 in a Ram Slam match here – the second highest total ever recorded at Kingsmead – but that surely won’t be repeated by either the Proteas or Australia today – assuming they get on the field at all.
The two teams haven’t had any luck in the three-match series so far. The rain, which washed out the first match in Port Elizabeth on Sunday, has simply travelled up the east coast and threatens today’s game. And with the forecast for Friday’s match in Centurion also of concern, inclement weather could call time on the entire series.
Hopefully that will not be the case, but, as Proteas’ skipper Faf du Plessis and Australia’s Shane Watson both pointed out yesterday, both teams will have two warm-up matches in Bangladesh which ought to be of more value given that players will be adjusting to the conditions they will face in the ICC World Twenty20 in two weeks.
Du Plessis made this point obliquely when he described leg-spinner Imran Tahir as a vital member of his squad. “He’s as big a strike bowler as a Dale Steyn is to our team so his performance in the World Cup is going to hugely determine how well we do.”
“Imi is very important to me. He does really well in those conditions in Bangladesh and us as a team back him completely. I understand he’s a game-changer and I also understand what comes with that. Imran is never a guy that needs to bowl and keep the run rate down for you. He’s a wicket-taker and you need to get the best out of him, bowl him in situations where we looking to get wickets.”
On the other hand, Du Plessis hardly needed to add that it’s highly unlikely that Tahir will play in Durban today, or at Centurion. It will be interesting to see if Australia take the same tack, with 43-year-old leg-spinner Brad Hogg standing by to become the oldest cricketer to play a T20 international if he gets chosen in either of the remaining two matches.
Notwithstanding, the lack of gametime, Du Plessis felt that his squad were in a state of readiness for the World Cup.
“I’ve always been a firm believer that teams that do well have guys that are in form. If you look at our batting line-up, each one of us is in form, and that’s a huge plus.
“If you go with that and then you have two or three guys who have a great tournament, that’s when you put yourself right up there to win.
“From the bowling perspective, the guys have also done well. Even though some of them are being rested (Dale Steyn and Morné Morkel) those who’ve come in have had excellent domestic T20 competitions.”
The captain would surely have included Beuran Hendricks of the Cobras and Kyle Abbott of the Dolphins in that category. Du Plessis added that the squad had gradually been ticking the boxes in recent months.
“Our preparation has been fantastic. We made that little goal for ourselves that we wanted to be number one or two 14 months ago and we did that. I think we were number six when we started the process. So we’ve had a great build-up and everything’s running according to plan. Hopefully we can just get some game time and we’ll be ready to go.”
Du Plessis described Australia as a “particularly dangerous” team, especially with their main strikers (David Warner and Aaron Finch) up front.
“But guys like that will always offer you chances and it’s important for us to try and get wickets early.”
He said that from a strategic point of view, the series was of less immediate importance to the Proteas because they are not grouped with Australia in the World Cup.
“But it’s important to win this week because we want to take a mental edge over them into Bangladesh in case we meet them in the semi-finals or the final.”
Asked to comment on South Africa’s batting order, and how best to position his most destructive batsmen, Du Plessis said the issue was settled.
“It’s important for me that guys become familiar with their roles, and that we don’t chop and change the order too often, something that I feel is very dangerous. We’ve had a very settled top six, and it’s been really successful for us.”
He confirmed that the experiment of playing AB de Villiers at the top of the order would not be repeated in Bangladesh.
“AB is such a valuable player in the middle-order, and on the subcontinent that’s the period of the game when there is the most pressure on and it’s hardest to bat, so that’s when you need your best player.”