When Faf du Plessis took over South Africa’s T20 leadership reins just over 12 months ago he called for immediate changes. The new captain was intent on proving there was more to him than just a suave-looking hairstyle and fashion and food tips posted on Twitter.
Du Plessis wanted his T20 team to build on the success of the all-conquering Test team, and not simply be viewed a developmental tool for future Proteas. He wanted a team culture that players were proud to be associated with, settled roles for individuals, and playing a brand of cricket that could attain success in all conditions.
He set short term and long term goals for his team to achieve, with the ultimate objective of entering the ICC World T20 in Bangladesh ranked No1 in the world. In a format as fickle as T20 cricket it was always going to be idealistic rather than a realistic target.
This approach from Du Plessis hit the right chord though with his young group of players. They responded to his and new coach Russell Domingo’s methods with successive series wins in parts of the world that South Africa have traditionally struggled to compete. Following the mauling the Proteas suffered under AB de Villiers in the Sri Lankan limited-overs series, Du Plessis led a recharged T20 team to a 2-1 T20 series win, and followed it up with more success in the United Arab Emirates against Pakistan.
Considering the Sri Lankans were losing World T20 finalists in 2012, and that former champions Pakistan have perennially been a powerhouse at the World T20 it was a considerable achievement by South Africa.
So, how then did a team that had made such positive progress over the past year look so devoid of ideas and strategy in the most recent series against Australia?
Granted, it was just one match and a seven-over bash that constituted a “series”, but South Africa’s overall mindset against the Aussies left a lot to be desired.
The batting unit lacks power-hitters up front to exploit the six overs of PowerPlay with nobody possessing the brute force of a Chris Gayle, Dwayne Smith, David Warner, Aaron Finch, Shane Watson or Brendon McCullum.
Fortunately, though, not many teams have such firepower that the West Indies, Australia and even New Zealand boast in abundance. Other teams have to rely on the skill and touch of their batsmen, and here the Proteas will look to Quinton de Kock to continue his merry limited-overs form while hopefully Hashim Amla’s class and experience in assessing conditions quickly will aid South Africa.
Amla remains a question mark in T20 cricket with Du Plessis probably better suited to starting the innings with De Kock. Whether South Africa are prepared to make such bold calls is another matter, but the last thing the Proteas do need is indecision, like at the World T20 in 2010 when four different opening combinations were experimented with at the tournament.
And that bring us to the crucial No3 position. Du Plessis currently occupies the post, but the calls are reaching a crescendo for De Villiers to be promoted with David Miller at No4. This is currently falling on deaf ears, and is likely to do so for a little while longer, as the brainstrust view these two explosive batsmen as “finishers”.
It proved to be the undoing at the 2012 edition, with De Villiers having to rebuild mostly in Sri Lanka, and he was unable to play with his natural freedom.
South Africa’s bowling department, especially with Dale Steyn and Morné Morkel set to return for the tournament, should be an asset once again. Their ability to strike with the new ball will be crucial within that opening powerplay allowing for Imran Tahir to conjure up a few more wickets during the middle-to-latter overs.
Spin will be crucial at this tournament and Tahir’s efforts will be closely monitored.
Death bowling remains a concern, and it will in all likelihood be left to either the erratic Wayne Parnell or the rookie Beuran Hendricks. How they perform will depend greatly on what has gone before them though, and how many inroads the likes of Steyn, Morkel and Tahir can make before the carnage at the back end unfolds.
Du Plessis’ team are now No4 in the ICC rankings, ahead of defending champions and master blasters West Indies.
Statistically speaking then, South Africa should qualify for the semi-finals.
Of that there is no guarantee though and to make the last four they will have to play exceptionally well, especially considering that the Proteas have entered such heights just once previously at a World T20.
This Proteas side is unlikely to choke, though. The reasoning here is based on the fact that they arrive in Bangladesh not as genuine contenders, but rather outsiders.
SQUAD: Faf du Plessis (capt), Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Beuran Hendricks, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Albie Morkel, Morné Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Aaron Phangiso, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe
SA’S GROUP 1 FIXTURES
Saturday v Sri Lanka Chittagong
March 24 v New Zealand Chittagong
March 27 v Qualifier B1 Chittagong
March 29 v England Chittagong
3:30pm - The Star