Faf du Plessis’ South African team arrive in Bangladesh ahead of the ICC World Twenty20 with question marks hanging over form, fitness and confidence.
The Proteas play their first game of the tournament in six days time, against Sri Lanka in Chittagong, but before then, they play two warm-up matches – against a Bangladesh A side on Tuesday and Pakistan on Wednesday – which Du Plessis said would be used to test different combinations and possible strategies.
He and coach Russell Domingo are leaning on results from last year – when they achieved a series win in Sri Lanka and against Pakistan in the UAE – to bolster self-belief as South Africa’s recent form in the shortest format is cause for concern.
South Africa have lost their past three matches – including that seven-over thrash-about in Durban – and their last win was a fortuitous one, against Pakistan at the Wanders last November via the Duckworth/Lewis method.
Du Plessis, however, said on Friday night following the six-wicket hammering by Australia in Centurion that confidence in the group was “still pretty high”.
“You can only reflect on the conditions we are going to play in now. We’ve had success there, but in saying that, you need to be playing your best cricket, which we didn’t (on Friday night).”
Du Plessis and Domingo are relying on the return of Dale Steyn and Morné Morkel to raise the spirit and quality of the side – especially the bowling – for a tournament which pits South Africa in a group with Sri Lanka, New Zealand, England and one other team from a pre-qualifying event that starts today.
Steyn should be fit for the warm-up games, having recovered from a pulled hamstring sustained in the last Test against Australia, but the prognosis on Morkel is less optimistic. According to team manager Mohammed Moosajee, Morkel, who had inflammation in his right shoulder that required an injection last week, is still undergoing rehab and may miss the first of the warm-up matches. They are hopeful, though, that he will be ready in time for the opener against Sri Lanka.
If form is the main criterion for selecting the final XI, as Du Plessis intimated, then Lonwabo Tsotsobe’s spot would be in danger. He was poor again on Friday night, failing to assess conditions quickly and bowling far too short and wide on a slow pitch.
An argument could be made that Tsotsobe bowls better when Steyn and Morkel are around, but Beuran Hendricks, who showed improvement after a shaky opening over, may argue that he’d like to bowl alongside that duo, too. Hendricks offers more pace and can also bowl at the back end of an innings – something Tsotsobe isn’t good at.
Imran Tahir was the only bright light as far as the bowling was concerned on Friday night, which pleased Du Plessis, given the conditions South Africa are likely to face.
Both Domingo and his Australian counterpart, Darren Lehmann, believe the Bangladesh pitches will be slow, low and susceptible to spin, and gradually worsen as the tournament continues. Most of the pitches were utilised for the recent Asia Cup and are being used over the next week for the qualifiers.
“They’ll be a little worn, tired; spin will be a big factor and bowling straight lines will be a big factor,” said Domingo. “South Africans historically prefer playing on what you’d call ‘westernised’ wickets – English, Australian, South African – so it will be a big challenge for us.”
With the batsmen carrying little form out of the shortened series against the Australians, expectations, certainly from the South African public, are lower for Du Plessis’ team than previous ICC events. “South Africa have gone to World Cups before extremely confident, playing quite well, and have come unstuck, so maybe this is a good omen for us,” said Domingo.
“We are one of seven or eight sides who could win this World Cup. The pressure won’t be there of being one of only two or three teams who could win it, and in competitions like this, you need a couple of players to play well. There is probably less pressure on us.” – Sunday Independent