For the most part, SA’s meltdowns have occurred at the 50-over World Cups. At the biennial World T20 events, the failure to win a title has instead been more due to not fully comprehending the unique demands of the shortest format rather than any mental limitations.
In fact, contrary to the belief that the Proteas are the quickest to wilt when the pressure valve is turned up, SA have actually been the most adept at holding their nerve come the crunch situation at past World T20 events. Of the major nations, it is the men in green who have closed out the most matches when the victory margin has been three runs or less.
This was particularly evident during the last World T20 where the Proteas edged out New Zealand and England in a couple of thrilling group games in Chittagong en route to an eventual semi-final.
Much of SA’s new-found calmness and eficient execution of skills when the pressure is on is due to the influence of T20 captain Faf du Plessis. The skipper is one of a rare breed of players who thrive when the situation requires him to be clear and precise in his thinking.
He will certainly need to be spot on today when the Proteas open their Group 1 campaign against England. The opposition will be hoping to rebound after being caught in the eye of the “Gayle-force” that struck the Wankhede Stadium on Wednesday night.
The damage Chris Gayle and the West Indies wrought was so severe that tonight’s tussle with the Proteas is a virtual must-win for Eoin Morgan’s men, given the battering their net run-rate suffered.
This situation will, of course, only serve as motivation for a young England side eager to show they can enter the new world, playing a brand of cricket that no other squad wearing the “Three Lions” badge has dared to attempt.
They will also welcome playing opposition who they are much more familiar with, after trading blows with the Proteas in all formats for most of the SA season.
Du Plessis will therefore need to get it right from the outset, and that means even before he walks out for the coin-toss with Morgan. He may not be a selector, but the captain’s influence in getting the desired playing XI out onto the field is of paramount importance.
There’s no hiding from the fact he would prefer AB de Villiers to open the batting, especially here on the batting-friendly tracks of Mumbai, but it seems that Du Plessis will need to reconsider that plan after De Villiers rediscovered his T20 form in the final warm-up game batting at No 4 earlier this week.
With Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla also striking the ball sweetly, it could serve the team best at this stage for De Villiers to come in later instead of opening as he could provide the impetus during the middle overs.
T20 strategies have advanced from only attacking the opening six power-play overs, as batsmen are now required to also clear the boundary when the field is pushed back. De Villiers is certainly capable of doing just that with his 360-degree batting style.
With dew set to be a major factor at the Wankhede Stadium – the super-soppers were deployed at the halfway mark in Wednesday night’s match – it is highly unlikely that SA will opt for a second spinner.
The primary slow bowling duties will be left to Imran Tahir, with JP Duminy hopefully providing a two-over cameo.
The prevailing conditions could also see the all-rounder scale tilt in favour of Chris Morris’ seam bowling credentials instead of David Wiese’s mixed bag of cutters, slower balls and grippers.
The psychological scars Morris inflicted on the English bowling attack at the Wanderers recently could also see him selected today.
SQUADS FOR THE WANKHEDE STADIUM
South Africa: Faf du Plessis (captain), Kyle Abbott, Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock (wk), AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Chris Morris, Aaron Phangiso, Kagiso Rabada, Rilee Rossouw, Dale Steyn, David Wiese. Coach: Russell Domingo
England: Eoin Morgan (captain), Moeen Ali, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler (wk), Liam Dawson, Alex Hales, Chris Jordan, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Reece Topley, James Vince, David Willey, Liam Plunkett.
Coach: Trevor Bayliss
Start: 4pm (SA time)
TV: SS2, Sabc 3
Radio: Sabc Radio2000 - Cape Times
Original source: #WT20 Can Proteas shed burden?