Disciplined SA overcome tough conditions
On the eve of the quarterfinal in Townsville, South Africa coach Ray Jennings predicted his team would score 240 and then dismiss England for 180. It was a bold prophecy to make because apart from backing his batsmen and bowlers to do significantly better than England's, at a venue South Africa had never played at, he was also forecasting who would bat first.
As it transpired, South Africa made 244 and then bowled England out for 141. For a team that arrived in Townsville only on Friday after playing their group games in Brisbane, and practised on Saturday after which they spent a few minutes assessing the pitch, South Africa were clinical in the execution of their skills.
After taking a look at the wicket at Tony Ireland Stadium, South Africa's captain Chad Bowes had said it was more South African than English, but he still had to bat on it when conditions were most difficult - early in the morning against the new ball. And apart from opener Quinton de Kock, who drove at a wide delivery without moving towards it, the other top-order batsmen were disciplined in their shot selection until they ensured South Africa had survived the opening hour without much damage.
Discipline. This South Africa squad has that quality. Before leaving for practice on Saturday, they had arranged their kit bags in incredibly orderly fashion in the lobby of their service apartments. Those bags were in order while at the nets as well, which hasn't been the case with some of the other teams. The South African players are almost always clean-shaven and tidy, with neat hair. Unusual behavior for teenagers. These off-field habits might have little to do with winning games of cricket, but they offer an insight into what sort of a regimen South Africa's Under-19 cricketers follow. It has Jennings' stamp on it.
"He [Jennings] has his set of values and disciplines and if we go out of line, we get nailed," Bowes said. "It's important for us to stay with him during the process. The more we do that the better it is for us growing into our cricket careers."
For most part of their innings against England, South Africa batted with a calm other sides have not when sent in at Tony Ireland Stadium. Theunis de Bruyn and Murray Coetzee, who both played for Northern Under-19s before making the step up to the national side, in particular were responsible for South Africa getting as far as they did. That they didn't go farther was down to a couple of moments of indiscretion - de Bruyn getting bowled to a poor shot and Shaylin Pillay attempting a scoop that landed in the wicketkeeper's gloves.
"Batting today under those conditions, the guys were able to do that," Jennings said. "We came through the tough period. I think there were one or two really poor shots, or we could have got 270 to 290. But I suppose that happens with the 19-year olds.
"[The performance] is pleasing but again, if we don't continue to play good cricket, we're going to get disappointed along the way. We've worked hard on certain consistent skills and the guys did deliver today on the skills we worked on. But I look ahead and look what happens on Tuesday."
South Africa did not have it easy after scoring 244. After losing Daniel-Bell Drummond early, England had a 100-run partnership for the second wicket, during which Alex Davies and Ben Foakes knocked it around and built a platform from which to accelerate from. South Africa's bowlers, however, did not let them score quickly.
"I went in with an open mind and a plan to build up dot balls," said offspinner Prenelen Subrayen, who began bowling after Davies and Foakes were well set and conceded only five runs in his first four overs. "If a wicket came it was a bonus for me."
The wicket came in his fifth. Foakes had hit a six and a four off Pillay but when he tried to steer Subrayen, he edged behind. It was the opening South Africa needed and Subrayen said they "used that to kill them [England] off." Nine wickets fell for 39 runs.
Tim Boon, the England coach, said they had enough batting options after Foakes to see the chase through and credited South Africa for their performance in a pressure situation. "We were a little bit behind the run-rate but with wickets in hand, you always know you can catch up. But when you lose wickets in quick succession the pressure builds up. They bowled very straight, extracted some bounce, they made us work very hard and they built the pressure on us. Today we didn't hold our nerve under pressure."
Jennings said the bowlers had shown maturity in not losing their plans while England were going well. "We worked quite a lot on handling pressure and not panicking," he said. "With England having a good start, I think they lost about seven wickets for 25-26 runs. That shows we did have the patience and we stuck to our game plans."
Having qualified from perhaps the toughest group in the league stage - Group D also had Sri Lanka and Bangladesh - and beating England in the first knockout, South Africa will play Australia in the semifinal. Their skills and disciplines will be tested all over again.
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo