Dubai: Opening games can be tricky. It’s difficult to read too much into them. Yet, they hold clues to how the teams will fare in the matches to come. Some teams overcome early jitters as the tournament progresses, and the weaker ones lose confidence and crash out.
Where does Australia’s nervy win over South Africa in Abu Dhabi fit in? Australia won the Super 12s opener in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, but the manner in which they accomplished it leaves a lot to be desired. If South Africa had scored another 20, maybe the chase would have panned out differently at the Zayed Cricket Stadium.
The chase demonstrated Australia’s weaknesses. The fragility at the top was evident as they ran into early trouble. David Warner is still searching for form, but he will find it in a couple of matches as they were positive signs.
But the Aussies are a classy side; they just need to get their act together. The manner in which Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis and Matthew Wade overcame the crises gives hope for the Baggy Greens.
More than the batting, skipper Aaron Finch would take heart from the bowlers’ performance. Admitted, the pitch was slow, making batting difficult. But the Australian bowlers never allowed the Proteas to wriggle out. Josh Hazlewood looked sharp and seemed to have carried the IPL form into the World Cup. Adam Zampa too was impressive with his leg-spin.
Captain Temba Bavuma would certainly lose sleep over South Africa’s batting collapse. Apart from Aiden Markram, no other batsmen looked capable of building the innings, although Quinton de Kock was unlucky to be dismissed freakishly.
The South African pace attack of Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada will trouble all the teams. Beyond them, the bowling didn’t look incisive enough. The Australians preferred to play out the spinners, Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi, so judging their effectiveness is difficult. Sterner tests await them.
So, where do these teams go from here? Australia can only improve; they have shown the willingness to fight and the ability to graft for a win. That’s something lacking in the South Africans. The gut feeling is that the Proteas will struggle to make an impact. They might have won eight of the last ten matches, including three series wins. The World Cup is a different ball game. South Africa may come up short.