South Africa sense an opportunity to finally get rid of the choker’s tag but the onerous task entails getting the better of the most successful team in the history of 50-overs World Cup, Australia, in Thursday’s semi-final in Kolkata.
Hurt by a combination of bad luck and nerves in the business end of showpiece event, South Africa are pitted against a powerhouse who thrive in those big moments as Australia have demonstrated with five titles.
The Proteas need to be in control of their nerves to be in control of their destiny, and barring the batting meltdown against India, they have looked formidable finishing second in the group stage behind the hosts.
There is plenty of firepower in their top order and Australia got their fingers burnt when Quinton de Kock’s rapid hundred secured the Proteas’ comprehensive victory in a group match in Lucknow.
South Africa, who have never progressed beyond the last four, are fretting over the availability of skipper Temba Bavuma, who is nursing a hamstring strain.
“We will continuously assess his progress through the management plan over the next few days towards giving him the best chance to play on Thursday,” the team said in a statement.
Should he miss the semi-finals, Aiden Markram would lead the side, while Reeza Hendricks is likely to open along side de Kock, who has smashed four hundreds in his final ODI tournament.
They have looked more comfortable setting targets than chasing one though, and they will expect more penetration from their bowlers against a resurgent Australia.
Regardless of how their group stage campaign ebbed and flowed, it came as no surprise when Australia hurled towards the knockout stages by stringing together seven wins in a row following that defeat by South Africa.
Travis Head’s return from a hand injury has rejuvenated their batting lineup, allowing others to play with more freedom, which has been evident in their subsequent group matches.
Glenn Maxwell’s sensational double hundred against Afghanistan and Mitchell Marsh’s unbeaten 177 off 132 balls against Bangladesh are the top two individual scores in this year’s tournament.
For large part of that incendiary knock, Maxwell batted on one leg and had to be rested for their last group match against Bangladesh.
The 35-year-old, who has also played the second spinner’s role to perfection, will return for the semi-final replacing either all-rounder Marcus Stoinis or batter Marnus Labuschagne.
“It will be tough (call),” Australia captain Pat Cummins told reporters on Tuesday.
“Now we’re at a stage where all 15 guys have played the games. You’ve got to give up something.
“So it’s kind of ‘what do you want to give up?’ and the good thing is it’s whatever way you go I don’t think there’s any wrong answer.”
Spin was on focus during Tuesday’s training session as both Australia and South African batters tried out different batting techniques to negotiate the conditions.
Going through a lean patch, veteran Aussie batter Steve Smith had an extended session as he along with another middle-order batter Marnus Labuschagne tried batting left-handed.
They had an intense session facing left and right handed spinners and also tried out unconventional shots.
Nursing a hamstring strain, South Africa skipper Temba Bavuma also had a lengthy training session during their session in the evening.
Unlike Monday, Bavuma didn’t look in a lot of discomfort as he went through the paces during training session.
He was also seen working on his lateral movements. Bavuma has been the weak link in South Africa’s power-packed batting and his highest from seven matches in the World Cup has been 35 against Australia.
- World Cup 2023
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