Aiden Markram
South Africa’s Aiden Markram plays a pull shot against Pakistan during the 2023 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup match at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, India, on October 27, 2023. Markram’s 91 was the cornerstone of South Africa’s one-wicket win over Pakistan. Image Credit: AFP

Looks like South Africa have a major weakness. Chasing seems to be the Achilles heel. Their only loss in the Cricket World Cup 2023 came at the hands of the Netherlands when the chase unravelled. That disaster was nearly replicated on Friday in Chennai when they pursued the target set by Pakistan. The Proteas barely scraped home by a wicket.

That wasn’t champion stuff. South Africa were lucky. The result would have been different if Pakistan had another 20 runs on the board.

South Africa have been a dominant side in the tournament with a score of over 400 and three totals that topped 300. All that came when batting first, when there wasn’t much pressure.

How stress undermines a chase

Batting second is a different ball game. True, there’s a clear target, and the chase can be calibrated, but a couple of quick wickets can raise stress to unmanageable levels. Here’s where a batter who can anchor helps.

The batter should not only bat through by eschewing risks but should also be able to rotate the strike besides whacking an occasional boundary to keep the run rate from ballooning. Not just that, he should be able to shift gears if required.

The Virat Kohli template

This is what Virat Kohli does for India. He’s such a genius at masterminding chases that he doesn’t have to hurry towards the end. If Kohli’s around, there’s no need for a designated finisher. Kohli finishes the job. His work should be a template for others to follow.

Aiden Markram did just that for South Africa, allowing others to bat around him. After the early flurry of boundaries, the Proteas vice-captain settled down to play a more sedate role as others went for their shots.

That worked very well. With David Miller finding his range, South Africa looked on course to the target. Trouble brewed when Shaheen Shah Afridi found the edge of Miller’s bat, and Marco Jansen’s dismissal later gave Pakistan a whiff of a chance.

Wickets always fall in clumps. Markram too fell at the same score of 250, nine runs short of his century, and a South African win 21 runs away. For the first time in the game Pakistan sensed victory, which looked a certainty when Lungi Ngidi departed with the Proteas needing 11 runs. Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj took South Africa home in a nervy finish.

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The Proteas were lucky. Pakistan’s 270 was at least 30 runs short, and credit should go to the South African bowlers for pulling it back. Even if Pakistan had batted the full 50 overs (they batted only 46.5 overs), South Africa would have had a stiffer target.

What’s clear is South Africa’s brittle batting. Their batters can’t handle the pressure of pursuing a score. So teams will bat first, hoping to exploit South Africa’s Achilles heel. Not a reassuring thought for Temba Bavuma’s team, which hopes to win the World Cup and bury the choker tag.

Well, they nearly choked against Pakistan.