This and other insights in our latest piece for the Mumbai Mirror which is about the South African team, why it’s good and why it’s bad.
For all that the Saffers have some great batsmen and a strong pace attack, there’s also another version of the side that’s fragile with the bat and wins games with spin. We should probably have mentioned the lack of a lower-order fast-medium all-rounder as well being as we were in the business of picking apart stereotypes.12 Appeals
Cricket needs jeopardy. Jeopardy makes things exciting.
You have jeopardy in a tournament – the chance of being knocked out – and lo, the match is exciting. Something is riding on it. Tension’s good.
You have jeopardy in an innings – the chance of being bowled out – and you get the same benefits.
Cricket is always best when wickets win a match. Test cricket is about taking 20 wickets and Test cricket’s best – but one-day cricket can also have its moments. That sense of jeopardy adds a whole extra dimension to proceedings, as we saw today.
Even AB de Villiers couldn’t save South Africa. His team again proved that other than he and Amla, they’re something of a fairweather batting side. For their part, Pakistan again proved that having two bowling attacks banned and another one injured need be no barrier to success.
But if Pakistan were the real winners, that oh-so-out-of-form side ‘cricket’ also earned a rare victory. Twenty20 is too short for wickets to be of any real concern. Surely here was proof that 50-over cricket’s niche is as a form of the game where they are at least meaningful?10 Appeals
This appears to be South Africa’s thinking after picking only four proper bowlers. It should present a vulnerability, but when you then make 408, you find you have a certain amount of breathing space – perhaps even enough that you could field Jade Dernbach and still harbour reasonable hopes of victory.
AB de Villiers’ 66-ball 162 is only the latest ‘whaaat?’ innings of this World Cup. They’ve all been striking efforts, but we suspect the novelty will wear off. A lot of matches seem to be less about how many a team can score and more about to what extent they can cash in.
It’s not the same thing. The computer game analogy is being used a lot of late but it’s apposite here. This World Cup is being played on ‘novice’ with teams looking to hit ever more humungous scores. It’s not a true challenge. It’s just doing as much damage as possible when the going’s easy.
We’ve not had too many close contests in the tournament and a lot of games have been all but decided when one team has ‘gone big’. It almost seems to be the case that if a batsman gets going in the last 10 overs, there’s nothing that can be done and the match is basically over.
Hopefully we’ll get some matches where both sides cash in and we can have a little bit of tension for once. While big innings are a feature, competition is the bedrock on which sport is built.18 Appeals
At the start of the tournament, we highlighted a weakness of South Africa’s – the fact that their batting order “quite quickly becomes a little bit Farhaan Behardien”. This weekend, it just as quickly became a little bit Wayne Parnell. That’s a long tail.
South Africa’s best batsmen are so good it rather distracts from the fact that their batting as a whole isn’t quite so all-conquering. If you can find a way to dispatch Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, they’re a surprisingly vulnerable side. But how exactly do you get rid of those pair? Well, in de Villiers’ own words: “You feel the pressure chasing 300 plus so you take on shots that you might not normally take on and you go for second runs you might not normally go for.”
It’s what was once known as ‘scoreboard pressure’ before that phrase came to mean little more than ‘a big score’. The two aren’t the same. Sometimes chasing 300 is easy. Sometimes chasing 250 is hard. You only really feel the pressure when you’re chasing a score that is – and we hate ourself for saying this – above par.
Chasing 300 is also a great deal easier when your best batsmen are in during the final 10 overs. This period of the game appears to have become disproportionately influential in one-day cricket since the introduction of two new balls and the changes to fielding restrictions with teams routinely scoring at 10, 12, even 15 an over.
Against Zimbabwe, South Africa made 28 in the first 10 overs of the match and 146 in the last 10. That puts a lot of emphasis on what commentators call ‘the back end of the innings’ (and which we will therefore refer to as being ‘the arse of the innings’).
In that instance, it was David Miller and JP Duminy, numbers five and number six, doing the damage. However, it wouldn’t have worked out quite the same if they’d entered that period with Wayne Parnell at the crease (Farhaan Behardien was actually number seven in that game, but you get what we’re saying). You could even argue that just one extra wicket in the first 40 overs of the game could have cost almost 100 runs.
One of the odd things about the arse of the innings being so significant is that it is leading a lot of teams to pick five specialist bowlers, rather than relying on part-timers. This means that it’s often the number seven and number eight batsmen who are making way for out-and-out bowlers – in short, the very people who are highly likely to find themselves at the crease in the final 10 overs. This exaggerates things further.
India find themselves in a slightly odd position in that they have two strong lower order batsmen in Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin who are both spinners. If they can keep them in the team, the batsmen have a nice safety blanket. But without them, you could excuse a few jitters and it’s possible the top order might play more conservatively to ensure the right men are around for the arse of the innings.
Australia, bizarrely, have gone the opposite way to a lot of teams and picked great swathes of batsmen-who-bowl and bowlers-who-bat. Sometimes it’s just good fortune that their best bowlers are also decent batsmen (Mitchells Johnson and Starc) and that their best batsmen also bowl (Steve Smith) but they’ve also been keen to play all-rounders like James Faulkner and Mitchell Marsh. The upshot is that while their top order isn’t quite so spectacular, it never really ends, so there’ll always be someone to exploit the arse (of the innings).
England’s latest match, against Scotland, was also an arse tale (as opposed to an arse tail). In a World Cup in which a three figure score from the last 10 overs is pretty much standard, they hobbled from 130-0 after 30 overs to 303-8 in 50. Basically, they scored in 20 overs not much more than a lot of sides would have been aiming for in 10.33 Appeals
Back in November 2012, AB de Villiers made 33 off 220 balls so that South Africa could save a Test against Australia. In March last year, against the same opposition, he made 43 off 228 balls, but this time South Africa lost.
Today it took him all of 31 balls to make a hundred. Only six didn’t go to the boundary. After that, he sped up.
If these extremes are impressive, consider what’s in-between. If you can block with the best of them and also slog with the best of them, your main challenge is deciding precisely how to defy the opposition.
We’re probably in mandatory handicapping territory here. AB de Villiers should be made to bat with the broken-off handle of a 1970s tennis racquet after downing three pints of Moonraker with a peeved ocelot strapped to his back. If we can persuade him to play like that for the next decade or so, either his Test or one-day average might just drop down into the forties. Not both though. That would be a bit optimistic.11 Appeals
Is it a sign of a good side that they can get away with working to a fairly predictable strategy? Innovation is often a way of making up for shortcomings.
South Africa’s approach to one-day cricket is what comes up by default in cricket strategy software. You’re meant to tweak it, twisting it to fit your strengths and weaknesses, but the Saffers haven’t bothered. Perhaps this is a sign that they have some rather good one-day players.
Opening partnerships are vital in 50-over cricket – just look at England for proof of that. South Africa have one all-time great in Hashim Amla balanced by Quinton of Kock, who is there to provide a bit of impetus at the outset. They provide a decent platform by any stretch, particularly when that platform is being built for AB de Villiers whose job it is to do whatever’s left.
Along with Virat Kohli, de Villiers is the best one-day bat in the world. He averages 50 and scores at a run a ball, as near as damn it. This year he averages 76. In 2012 he averaged 107. Last year was the first year since 2009 when he didn’t score at more than a run a ball.
Between the openers and de Villiers stands the waxed bulwark of Faf du Plessis. For the first three years of his one-day career, du Plessis failed to score a century and averaged in the twenties. Impressed by this, South Africa moved him to three and since then he’s made three hundreds and averaged 50.
Bowling-wise, South Africa have Dale Steyn. He is the reigning Lord Megachief of Gold, so we don’t feel we need to write about him. Of greater interest is Imran Tahir.
Yes, that’s right – Imran Tahir. The legspinner who concedes about four an over in Tests also concedes about four an over in one-dayers. And he takes a few wickets. We’re not sure anyone’s noticed, but he could be the trump card in what is already a hand full of jacks, queens and kings. You can assign those face cards to the players as you see fit.
King Cricket rating: The Departed
You feel like you’ve seen it before, but it’s done well and there’s a strong cast.19 Appeals
Aside from batting all day at one run an over to save Test matches, Faf du Plessis’s other thing is getting hit in the balls. You might say that he’s a specialist.
In the video below, he talks you through the countermeasures he has been forced to take. Here’s a link to the video as well because we’re 95 per cent certain that it won’t show up for email subscribers.
That is… stellar. Particularly when you consider that he made three off 58 balls in the first innings.
He wasn’t alone either. You can see the full deadbattery in scorecard format here. South Africa were playing for a draw to secure the series and succeeded in fine complete-absence-of-style. Rangana Herath opened the bowling and delivered 45 overs.
30 of them were maidens.18 Appeals
That was where everything went wrong. They hauled it back a bit by batting okay, but really the match was decided when Faf du Plessis scorned the coin’s generosity. Why would you ask Virat Kohli to chase? It’s like asking Mike Gatting to guard your cupcakes from scavengers.
This leaves us with an India v Sri Lanka final. As usual.16 Appeals
Minnows, upsets, India v Pakistan and the semi-finals already – this World T20 is getting the job done. And while some people claim that Twenty20 can be a lottery, you can make a strong case for the four remaining teams also being the four strongest.
Sri Lanka v West Indies
Darren Sammy is averaging a hundred in this tournament with a strike rate of 224. He’s managed to make an extraordinary impact in just 45 balls at the crease. Rangana Herath has played even less cricket but he too has made his mark. Bowling just 21 deliveries, he is currently averaging 0.60.
That sort of sums these teams up. Both seem like proper Twenty20 sides, chock full of weirdness and heavery. Neither gets too disheartened whether chasing a big total or defending a small one. We’ve no idea who’ll win, which is the way we like it.
India v South Africa
Insofar as any team can have reliable batting in Twenty20, India have reliable batting, but their bowling is more than doing a job in these conditions. Hardly anyone’s going for runs and in fact this is probably why the batting has appeared solid. They’ve been able to play within themselves.
For their part, South Africa have been uncharacteristically erratic. They’ve been generally underwhelming but with flashes of individual brilliance and appear to be working to Broad’s Law about only needing a maximum of two or three players to play well in this format. We’d bet on India, but unfortunately we don’t hold a position of responsibility within the BCCI and are therefore not permitted to lay wagers on cricket matches.12 Appeals