Cricket is an indispensable part an English summer. The only other thing that happens more frequently during an English summer is that it rains. I mean the freak hailstorms, floods and thunderstorms are occasional but it’s the passing showers that carry the essence of the summers in England. That and Cricket. The Cricketing summer in England this year had a dull start with the ODI series against Ireland. But it promises to get better. England is hosting South Africa in a 3 match ODI series and then the mega event, the ICC Champions Trophy 2017. So in the final week leading up to the tournament, and as a part of our series of Champions Trophy Previews, this time we’re looking at South Africa and their chances heading into the ultimate clash of the titans.
A strong bowling attack
The first look at the South African squad for the Champions Trophy tells you that the selectors have clearly cushioned the bowling department. What this does for captain AB De Villiers is gives him plenty of bowling options. He has the tall Morne Morkel who last played an ODI in 2016, Chris Morris and Kagiso Rabada both of them who had a tremendous IPL. All of them are good enough to bowl with the new ball. Morkel’s height, Morris’ control, and Rabada’s pace will be a major asset for South Africa especially with the new ball. Apart from them, in their last 10 ODI’s Wayne Parnell has been given the new ball six times out which four times Parnell has picked up early wickets. According to their skipper, they don’t want to commit to a particular opening bowling pair. He feels whomsoever gets the new ball will be getting it for a specific reason and under specific circumstances. This new ball luxury is exclusive to South Africa in the Champions Trophy and if they play their cards right then this can make a huge difference in the tournament.
Apart from these usual suspects, two names that have kept making headlines in this seam bowling battery are Dwaine Pretorius and Andile Phelukwayo. Both very different kind of bowlers but who rely heavily on their accuracy for success. Before talking Pretorius’ game, it is worth mentioning that his cricketing journey is epic. I am sure a lot of them have googled him by now but if you haven’t then just for your motivation; this is an all-rounder who first had a career threatening knee injury, decided to pursue accounting, got back to cricket, another knee surgery, lost his pace, found his batting and then the national call up in 2016.Fascinating. So Pretorius is basically a 130+ kph bowler who’s USB is tight, top of off, economical bowling that will allow De Villiers to attack with Imran Tahir at the other end in the middle overs. Phelukwayo on the other end has been preferred to bowl at the death. The most effective weapon he has is the slower ball. As much as the execution of the slower ball, for a 21-year-old, Phelukwayo has shown tremendous game awareness of when to bowl it.
The spin duo consists of the leg-spinner Imran Tahir and the left- arm spinner Keshav Maharaj. Maharaj who is yet to make his ODI debut. Leggie Tahir relies largely on his stock ball but disguises the googly well. Maharaj on te other hand relies mostly on the flight and will also add some assistance with his batting ability.
Few chinks in the batting department
Unlike the ball, the opening partnership with the bat is certain for sure. Quinton De Kock will tee off the proceedings with Hashim Amla. While Amla has been in fine form in the IPL with two hundred, De Kock has been a run-getter at the top for South Africa. However, his scoring areas are just to the square of the of the wicket. Anything marginally shot and De Kock pounces on it. If the opposition team and can plan and bowl a little straight at him they can tie him down. Also, he had problems with the off spin like most left-handers do. So off spin with the new ball is another definite ploy against him.
Faf du Plessis comes in at number three with heaves of runs behind him. Even though his IPL franchise Pune Supergiants didn’t show enough faith in him and just gave him two matches in the IPL he has been in superb form for his national side. He averages 81 in his last 10 innings.
Captain AB De Villiers will bat at number 4 and he still recovering from his injury. Just before the ongoing ODI series against England DE Villiers mentioned that he is just 90% fit. Watching him bat in the IPL gave a signal that he is not in the freak mode yet. But then the pedigree of De Villiers is such that he can change gears any time and when he does he is impossible to stop. Number 5 and 6 might still belong to JP Duminy and David Miller both they will be wanting to make a mark on the big stage. Bating beyond these two revolves around a cluster of allrounders; Morris, Phelukwayo, and Pretorius. All of them are very capable with the bat but are they good enough to win games single-handedly? That is a major concern. Kagiso Rabada has shown in the IPl that he is decent with the bat, he along with Keshav Maharaj might add some lower order runs for South Africa.
South Africa is placed in group B along with India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. Being the only non-sub continental in their group they might be the odd one out but on paper, the English conditions should suit them the most.
I wonder if this edition of Champions Trophy is more of a tussle between all the eight captains than all the previous editions. And AB DE Villiers is the key to South Africa’s triumph. Apart from his batting, his captaincy will also be under the scanner. He has to charge and one way to do this is by scoring run hence its imperative that he is 100 % if he is not that might impact the entire campaign of South Africa.
Like many other ICC tournaments in the past, South Africa starts as favorites in this tournament as well. But will they inch ahead in the crucial moments or the moment will get the better of them? We don’t have to wait too long to find out that. The big stage is here again.
Written by Babasish Nanda