It has been a week of contrasting emotions for the Proteas as they mixed despair with brilliance. The lows of the MCG were offset by the highs of the SCG in two games of stark contrast. The loss to India has been unpacked time and time again the past week. In brief, the team seemed much more tense than usual. I previously said that the team which found their rhythm the fastest would dictate the tempo of the game and on the day this was certainly India. They embraced the occasion and thrived in the pressure.
Fortunately, the nature of the round robin format ensures that teams can absorb losses and still progress to the knock-out rounds. It allows for teams to evolve over the six week period and ultimately rewards those that can generate momentum, find consistency and peak in the final three weeks. I commented earlier how it is always challenging to look for and take components of optimism and encouragement from a loss and especially one in a major tournament. The emotion post the disappointment needs to be acknowledged and perspective sought. The team clearly followed this process and took heed of the lessons of the MCG and the result was a resounding, clinical and comprehensive victory against an overwhelmed West Indies outfit that walked into a perfect storm.
The team will know that this is the type of performance that they will need to replicate on three consecutive weeks in order to the lift the trophy. The win would have definitely settled the nerves of a few of the squad members and also released the pressure valve somewhat. This, in turn, will help them embrace the tournament and all that it has to offer. A crucial ingredient at succeeding on any tour is to immerse oneself in and soak up the culture of the country. This provides a welcome break from the intensity of playing and allows one to truly appreciate the opportunity, tour and tournament.
I don’t foresee either Ireland or the UAE causing too many problems. I am certain the entire squad will be given an opportunity to play over these two games also allowing for key players to rest. Pakistan always presents a different prospect. They are difficult to prepare for due to their unpredictability often rendering tactics and strategies obsolete on the day. They have looked underwhelming thus far in the tournament but it isn’t their style to look anything but that in the early parts of any tournament.
Misbah-ul-Haq represents the biggest threat and I will go as far to say that if the Proteas can nullify him half the battle is won such is his influence. He is the only one of the top and middle-order who has shown any form thus far this tournament. One area in which the Pakistanis represent real danger is their lower-middle order. Sohaib Maqsood, Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi and Wahab Riaz are all potentially explosive players who have each given an indication that they are finding some respective form with the bat. They have rallied thus far in each of Pakistan’s games giving the scorecard some impetus and respectability.
The Pakistani pace attack is fairly raw for a tournament of this stature. I faced one of the quickest spells in my career from Mohammad Irfan in 2013 and he will again lead the attack. Rahat Ali and Wahab Riaz will provide the variation with their left-arm swing. Afridi and Haris Sohail will complement them with their left-arm slow and legbreaks respectively.
The constitution of the Proteas team on the day may be based on the personnel who are available to them and injury free. I don’t think South African necessarily had a first choice eleven which they planned to play against each of the major nations. I feel that they planned to adopt a horses for courses approach based on the opposition and the conditions. This was evident by the selection of Wayne Parnell ahead of Farhaan Behardien against India. The number-seven batsman and makeup of the fifth bowler will continue to dominate selection conversations leading up to the game and I believe the panel will revert to Behardien in that role for this fixture.
The Proteas will know that victory in this fixture will provide them with the confidence, momentum and belief that they will so desperately want going into the knock-out stages. Defeat is something that they won’t even be contemplating.