Abu Dhabi: Australia and South Africa will set the Super 12s ball rolling in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup on Saturday. These are cricket powerhouses, who strangely haven’t won this tournament. That should be enough incentive to crank up their game at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
South Africa, beset by the loss of players to retirements, are no longer one of the main contenders. They are in the process of rebuilding the side with a bunch of youngsters under South Africa’s first black captain Temba Bavuma.
One player to catch the eye had been leg spinner Tabraiz Shamsi, currently the most successful T20 bowler. Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj will share the spinning duties, and hence their performances will be critical to the side’s fortunes on UAE pitches.
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The Proteas have one of the best pace packs in the tournament. Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi are top class pacers, but more than speed, their variations will be rewarded in T20 games.
Quinton de Kock is perhaps the most recognisable name in the South African ranks. Naturally, Bavuma will bank on the wicketkeeper-batsman’s experience to get the side off to good starts. Reeza Hendricks, if he doesn’t open, Aidan Markram and Rassie van der Dussen have to man the middle order.
The team has gelled well and three T20 International series wins are ample proof. One of them was against the T20 World Cup champs West Indies. Australia will be aware of that.
Aaron Finch’s Australia may not be red-hot favourites, but the side is filled with quality players. Fast bowler Mitchell Starc is not at his best, but he’s still a handful. And Josh Hazlewood’s incisive spells for the Chennai Super Kings in IPL will warrant selection alongside Pat Cummins.
Spin is secure in the hands of leggie Adam Zampa and left-armer Ashton Agar. And Glenn Maxwell’s effective efforts with his off-spin for the Royal Challengers Bangalore wouldn’t have gone unnoticed.
Maxwell’s form with the bat too will please Finch, who will be worried about fellow-opener David Warner’s lack of runs. Marcus Stoinis seemed to have shaken off his injury and was in good touch in the warm-up game against India. But the match also flagged up Australia’s middle-order fragility.
That shouldn’t worry the Baggy Greens against South Africa. They have enough depth and experience to quell Proteas’ challenge.