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“If South Africa need to go big in this tournament, their batting needs to click. The pre-tournament build-up was all about their bowlers and how they can wreak havoc. But unless the batsmen chase down and even put substantial scores, things are going to get difficult”

The World Cup has arrived and all the hype, nerves and butterflies seemed to have finally settled down. For the first time in a long time, South Africa went into a World Cup tournament without the favourites tag. Not a lot of people were talking about them and Faf du Plessis was happy about that.

The South African skipper felt that England being the favourites for the opening fixture meant the pressure was a lot lesser on his team. He wanted them to play freely and enjoy. “England are the favourites so if it means on the day there is less pressure on us then we can play freely. We are going in as underdogs and if that releases some players in the team then that is great,” the South African skipper was quoted saying in the pre-match press conference.

However, that was barely the case. South Africa were under the pump for most of the game despite there being moments where they could’ve bossed the game. They felt the heat, especially with the bat and England, simply capitalized on that.

The bowlers did well to pull things back towards the back half of the first innings. The pitch at the Oval wasn’t a belter. It did have something in it for the bowlers. There was hardly any swing or seam but there was some zip in the surface if the bowlers put in that effort, just like Jofra Archer did. Also, the cutters were holding up and there was a little bit of spin.

Hence, if South Africa wanted to go out and smash it from ball one, it wasn’t the pitch to do it. But it was still a pretty good one to bat on and 311 was a par score. With one side of the boundary short and England slightly vulnerable at times with the ball, South Africa might’ve fancied their chances. But no one apart from Quinton de Kock and Rassie van der Dussen who scored fifties put their hand up. Absolutely no one. And there seemed a lack of intent too. Those two fell to poor shots as well.

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Yes, Hashim Amla was knocked on the helmet which led him to walk off the field and that didn’t help. But that shouldn’t have mattered a whole lot. Aiden Markram walked in and caught his age-old disease of not converting in ODI cricket. Out of the 19 innings he’s batted in 50-over cricket for South Africa, there has been only one instance of him facing under 10 balls in an innings.

The 24-year-old might be batting out of position with de Kock and Amla occupying the opening slots. But adapting is the key. He’s been in fine form and has scored runs consistently in domestic one-day tournaments. However, he poked loosely at one outside off edging to slip. Skipper Faf du Plessis who has been in wonderful touch himself, played a pull shot against Archer while he’s been hurrying every batsman he’s bowling against. That was one dismissal that hurt South Africa.

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However, there are two dismissals that would’ve hurt the Proteas badly and they were the ones of Quinton de Kock and JP Duminy. It’s not the dismissal but the manner in which they got out. South Africa had a good partnership going with de Kock and van der Dussen moving along nicely. However, a sudden rush of blood from de Kock made him pay the price. He toe-ended an absolutely harmless, leg-stump length ball straight down fine-leg’s throat.

With Amla uncertain and the score moving along nicely, de Kock needed to stay calm and continue in the same way. But he wanted to smash Liam Plunkett out of the ground and that too by taking on one of the longer boundaries.

If that was bad, Duminy’s was equally disappointing if not more. After having got a boundary already in the over, the experienced left-hander became greedy. He tried to go over extra-cover but ended up hitting it a lot straighter and straight to long-off. That was just his 11th delivery and he tried attacking. What was disappointing was Duminy with all the experience he had succumbing to pressure. He was the last recognised batsman with Amla’s availability uncertain. He needed to take responsibility and bat deep.

After Duminy’s dismissal, there seemed very little chances of coming back. The all-rounders were left too much to do while Rassie van der Dussen fell to the growing asking rate. Hashim Amla did come out to bat but there was hardly any intent.

The shot selection was absolutely poor from the Proteas batsmen in this opening fixture. This was not a typical flat surface we’re used to seeing in England. But 312 was gettable. It’s just that South African batsmen didn’t adapt well enough. England showed that application. Maybe, South Africa could’ve taken a leaf out of England’s book and the way they approached their innings, just like the England bowlers did from their South African counterparts.

Yes, it’s just the first game and there’s no need to hit the panic button already. But this was the fear. Despite racking up some decent scores this year, South Africa’s batting was going into the World Cup on the lighter side. They need to pull up their socks early else they’ll be playing catch up all the time.

As Faf du Plessis said in the post-match press conference, South Africa need to learn but learn quickly and move on. If South Africa need to go big in this tournament, their batting needs to click. The pre-tournament build-up was all about their bowlers and how they can wreak havoc. But unless the batsmen chase down and even put substantial scores, things are going to get difficult.

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