TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
THIS was supposed to be the nothing game, the lowest hurdle. The game that maybe even, who knows, at a stretch, Aaron Phangiso would play.
Instead SA’s World T20 match against Afghanistan in Mumbai on Sunday is suddenly much more than the sum of those parts.
Faf du Plessis’ team must win if they are to retain a realistic chance of staying alive beyond the group stage.
If they lose their WT20 looks set to end next Monday, after they play Sri Lanka.
SA face that fate because they lost to England on Friday. There is nowhere to run nor to hide when the semi-finals loom after only four group matches.
“We are under the pump,” JP Duminy said after Friday’s game. “We understand that there is a lot more pressure on us now to win every game.”
SA should, of course, beat Afghanistan. In the teams’ only previous meeting, in Bridgetown at the 2010 WT20, SA won by 59 runs with Morne Morkel and Charl Langeveldt sharing seven wickets in the Afghans’ total of 80.
But Morkel was somehow left out of this squad and Langeveldt is now the bowling coach. Which is perhaps no bad thing because it is up to him to sort out the mess SA were with the ball on Friday.
From bright young thing Kagiso Rabada to fading star Dale Steyn, the seamers were ordinary. Lengths were missed more than they were hit and lines were not altered quickly enough when the need arose.
On top of that, no team have conceded more extras in a T20 this year than the 26 SA bled against England – 20 of them in wides.
Part of the problem was the dew that fell under lights during England’s innings and made gripping the ball difficult. With Sunday’s match starting four-and-a-half hours earlier, that will not be an issue.
Not that Duminy was looking for excuses: “The errors were made by us and we have to take responsibility for that and rectify that for the next game.
“The plans were always there. It comes down to execution. Is there something we need to do differently especially as we are at this venue again? We’re going to need to make sure that our execution is better.”
For Hashim Amla yesterday, “The difference was us conceding too many extras. We’ve got a quality attack and they will be hurt at not executing as well as they would like. In the next game they can correct that.”
Should SA make changes to their team?
“It’s difficult to speak with absoluteness because the captain and the coach decide, but I think the team that played (on Friday) was the best team,” Amla said.
It was. Which is a worry because it means SA’s finest are not good enough to win even when Amla, Duminy and Quinton de Kock score half-centuries in a total of 229/6, which was the seventh-highest in T20 history after Friday’s game.
Coach Russell Domingo said before the squad left SA that he was concerned about his team’s ability to defend a score. Friday’s events offered ample evidence of why he feels that way.
Will Sunday’s opponents add to SA’s fears?
Afghanistan came up the hard way, with a hat-trick of victories in the qualifying round, one of them over Zimbabwe. They are pluck personified.
Look out for Mohammad Shahzad, a Kung Fu Panda of a wicketkeeper-batsman who moonwalks to celebrate stumpings, and Rashid Khan, a 17-year-old leg spinner with the face of a poet and seven wickets in four games in the tournament.
Look out, too, for Phangiso. SA know Fikile Mbalula will be doing exactly that.