Cape Town - Two matches ago South Africa’s T20 World Cup plans were going along swimmingly well.
They were a side in the midst of a red-hot 13-game winning streak. Plans were coming together, players were in-form and the much-maligned batting unit were chasing down record totals.
Oh, how things have changed since Cuttack with a young and inexperienced Indian team bouncing back and punching holes where South Africa had seemingly thought they were impenetrable. Suddenly, the visitors now look vulnerable in crucial areas, most notably at the top of the order, heading into the series-decider at Bangalore on Sunday.
Captain Temba Bavuma has not been able to find any of the fluency his game relies upon, and an elbow injury sustained in the Rajkot defeat that forced him to retire injured midway through his innings further compounds the concern.
Quinton de Kock has battled with a finger injury since the series-opener which has stalled his momentum, while Reeza Hendricks’ continued failure to transform sparkling domestic form to the international stage persists.
With Aiden Markram also back in South Africa recovering from Covid-19, it does leave the Proteas with precious little options, but they simply have to find a way at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium if they are to avoid losing a first-ever T20I series on Indian soil.
“We can always look at different aspects of the game where we can improve. But, yeah, it's back to the drawing board,” Proteas vice-captain Keshav Maharaj said. “We need to be a bit more proactive. We have stifled ourselves in the powerplay.”
It’s not only the top-order batters that need to get the act together quickly. Dale Steyn often stated when assessing the opposition that "If you can cut off the head of the snake, the rest of the body tends to fall."
India have certainly targeted South Africa’s premier spin bowler Tabraiz Shamsi during this series. Shamsi, who has played musical chairs with Afghanistan superstar Rashid Khan for the leading-ranked T20I bowler in the world over the past year, has certainly not been able to contribute his regular match-changing spells as yet.
In fact, the wrist-spinner is South Africa’s most expensive bowler of the four-match series having conceded 102 runs at an economy rate of 10.20. He also just has a solitary scalp to show for his troubles.
This has placed Bavuma under immense pressure in the field due to Shamsi not being able to bowl his full four-overs quota, which has forced the skipper to revert to his seamers earlier than expected.
India took full advantage of this situation during the last match in Rajkot with South Africa leaking 73 runs in the last five overs.
Maharaj, though, leapt to the defence of his spinning partner citing the size of the grounds in India, but was confident South Africa would be able to turnaround their fortunes.
“Yes, obviously the last five overs we gave about 70 odd runs, so maybe we need to come up with better plans and executions and maybe we could have held our lines and lines a little bit longer,” Maharaj said.
“India is a tough place for spinners to bowl though with small grounds. But we can come up with better tactics for the next game and try to combat the Indian lower order for that.”
After missing the last match through “niggles”, South Africa will hope they will be able to call upon talisman Kagiso Rabada and Wayne Parnell for the series-decider. Both have been really impressive with their economy during the first three matches.
LIKELY TEAMS FOR BANGALORE
South Africa: Reeza Hendricks/Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock, Rassie van der Dussen, David Miller, Heinrich Klaasen/Tristan Stubbs, Wayne Parnell/Marco Jansen, Dwaine Pretorius, Keshav Maharaj, Tabraiz Shamsi, Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje/Lungi Ngidi.
India: Ishan Kishan, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (w/c), Hardik Pandya, Dinesh Karthik, Axar Patel, Harshal Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Avesh Khan.
Start: 3:30pm TV: SS2