Bavuma is improving, but Proteas’ good bowling poses a conundrum for the semifinal
The captaincy will not protect the opener if the injury inhibits his play, says coach
Kolkata — A forecast for rain, the captain’s hamstring, Australia … SA and Cricket World Cup semifinals — it’s never simple. It will be packed with drama.
From Sydney to Birmingham, St Lucia to Auckland, the Proteas have only known heartache in the semifinals. What will Kolkata, still heaving with sound and bursting with light after Diwali, deliver?
The Proteas have marched fairly serenely through the World Cup’s round-robin stage, handily beating the team they face on Thursday as part of seven wins from nine matches that allowed them to claim second spot behind India on the points table — a position that may prove significant given the weather forecast for Kolkata later this week.
There has been a cloud over Proteas captain Temba Bavuma too, who strained his right hamstring against Afghanistan on Friday, and is being carefully monitored by the medical staff before the semifinal. Bavuma seemed to be moving fine at training sessions under lights at Eden Gardens on Tuesday, but as head coach Rob Walter cautioned earlier in the day, the rehabilitation process is multifaceted.
“We still need to check him out in the high-speed zones, which is all a progression; so it’s from when the injury happened to the rehab that has taken place in the past 72 hours and each day brings something new to test whether he is ready and match-fit,” said Walter.
Though as captain he is given leeway as he struggles for form at the tournament, Walter said the captaincy would not give Bavuma extra protection if the injury did not heal sufficiently and inhibited his play. “No-one is bigger than the team.”
Bavuma, albeit an important member of the team, is just one player. SA’s future in this tournament beyond Thursday will depend on more than one player performing. That is something they have proved throughout the competition.
While Quinton de Kock rightly receives all the plaudits having made four centuries, three other batters have made hundreds too. Reeza Hendricks, who would start if Bavuma cannot play, made 85 against England, Marco Jansen even has an unbeaten 75 to his name, while Andile Phehlukwayo scored the winning runs against Afghanistan just as Keshav Maharaj did against Pakistan.
“The beauty is that different guys have stepped up at different times,” said Walter.
It has been the same with the ball, where young tyros Gerald Coetzee and Jansen, have taken the majority of the wickets, but they would not have managed that without pressure being created by Kagiso Rabada and Maharaj.
In fact, Coetzee’s continued knack of taking wickets will lead to the one selection conundrum for Walter and Bavuma to ponder as they pore over what will be needed to defeat Australia. Players from both teams, when inspecting the surface for Thursday’s encounter, have hinted that it will take spin. It did when SA played India there 10 days ago.
Given how SA used Tabraiz Shamsi in Lucknow, which did not spin as much as Eden Gardens, specifically because they feel Australia’s batters struggle against the turning ball, it may be a route they wish to follow again, in terms of the composition of their attack.
That would leave a question over which seamer to drop. It cannot be Rabada and Jansen has been too penetrative in the power play — despite his poor outing against India — leaving a toss-up between Lungi Ngidi and Coetzee.
The former has taken 10 wickets, and while he has not played poorly, in getting the right balance and tactics for Australia, his spot may be most under pressure, despite his excellent record against David Warner. Coetzee has also been the fastest of the SA bowlers, hitting the high 140km/hs, and has taken 18 wickets.
It is an intriguing option and one that will come into consideration perhaps only after the brains trust has taken one more look at the pitch on Wednesday.
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