LONDON – It has been a strange couple of days here at the World Cup. After a lacklustre opening fortnight, the tournament has sprung to life.
Hosts England suffered a shock defeat to Sri Lanka, and India were pushed against the ropes by tournament minnows Afghanistan. This bizarre turn of events has muddled the expected semi-final permutations, with teams in the lower half of the table suddenly back in the frame.
Does this all mean that the Proteas are taking out their calculators and keeping a close eye on all the other matches again?
“Look, we definitely never feel down and out,” Proteas opener Aiden Markram said ahead of today’s clash against Pakistan at Lord’s. “We've sort of tried to put a lot of focus back completely on to us going forward. It's obviously really important that we win the remaining three games, and if there's an outside chance of qualifying, that would be incredible.
“But the only way we're going to do that is by winning the next three games. A lot of focus is on us at the moment, us as a squad and trying to win the next three games, and from there we'll take it as it comes.”
Pakistan, like the Proteas, are in a tight squeeze after a couple of disappointing results. But Sarfaraz Ahmed’s team, who are arguably the kings of going through the back door at major tournaments, are also not giving up just yet.
“The tournament is open now, so we have a chance. So, we are focusing match-by-match. So hopefully we will try to win. We all know South Africa have good players on their team. So, we are all focusing for the whole team. But we are backing ourselves, so hopefully we will bounce back,” the Pakistan skipper said.
The teams certainly are familiar foes. They spent an entire summer jostling for supremacy. South Africa came out on top at home, like they usually do in bilateral series, but the warning signs that have been horribly exposed at this World Cup were not respected.
Although the runs were still flowing from Hashim Amla’s blade, it was more of a trickle than a flood with his strike-rate dropping appreciably. Equally, the dependence on Quinton de Kock was already prevalent while the middle-order – bar Rassie van der Dussen – scratched around.
It was during this time that Markram was back at the Titans, plundering domestic attacks to all parts, which ultimately booked the former SA U-19 captain his ticket to this World Cup.
Unfortunately, the 24-year-old has not been able to replicate this form here in the United Kingdom with the youngster failing to convert a couple of promising starts into anything substantial. Compounding the situation for the Proteas is the fact the epidemic has spread throughout the batting unit.
“We are pretty much doing the hard work up front. We are getting in and we are not kicking on. It does definitely set you back. Every time you lose a wicket, naturally the rate will drop, and the new batter needs to get himself in and it takes a bit of time. It's definitely something we are looking to rectify,” Markram said.
“It’s really important to get yourself in, because we've seen the knocks and the magnitude of knocks that some of the top players in the world are scoring at the World Cup. They are really scoring big hundreds.
“We pride ourselves on getting big hundreds as individuals because that sets up the team and puts the team in a big position. We are putting our focus on there. The positive is that we have been getting in, so we are doing the tough part fairly well up front, and now it's about converting it into really big scores,” he added.
Markram has yet to score an ODI ton. Considering all that has gone before, it would be particularly special if manages to do it here at Lord’s.
LIKELY TEAMS FOR LORD’S
Pakistan: Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Haris Sohail, Sarfaraz Ahmed (C,wk), Imad Wasim, Wahaz Riaz, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali.
South Africa: Quinton de Kock (wk), Hashim Amla, Aiden Markram, Faf du Plessis (c), Rassie van der Dussen, David Miller/JP Duminy, Andile Phehlukwayo, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Imran Tahir.
Start: 11:30am (SA time)@ZaahierAdams