SA v Zimbabwe, World T20 2012, Group C, Hambantota September 20, 2012

A resounding win of little value

There was little South Africa could have done better in their opening match against Zimbabwe, but other teams will ask much tougher questions of them as the tournament goes on

If South Africa were hoping to ease their way into the tournament, they couldn't have wished for a better surface to open their campaign on than the pitch they encountered on Thursday night in Hambantota. The South Africa seamers might have started paying attention when Dale Steyn's first delivery zipped off the surface and carried well to the keeper, but when Morne Morkel bowled Vusi Sibanda with a vicious indipper, they would have known they would enjoy the evening. Eight wickets for 66 between the four of them, all 16 overs bowled, should have them well satisfied.

But that is partly why this 10-wicket victory means little in the context of the competition. It would be easy to dress it up as a dire warning to the other teams. Of the four wins over minnows so far, this was, after all, the most resounding. South Africa made no major errors in any department; they were ruthless with ball in hand and clinical in their run chase. Still, given the conditions, the result seems a little hollow.

South Africa are now guaranteed a place in the Super Eights, but all of their games in that phase are in Colombo - traditionally the least juicy pitch of the three being used for the World Twenty20. The Premadasa wicket had bounce and carry on its first evening of use, but given the venue will host 16 more matches in the next few weeks, including the women's knockout matches, the square is unlikely to retain that spice for the duration of the tournament. South Africa didn't bowl out either of their spinners against Zimbabwe, but if they are to go deep into the tournament, Robin Peterson and Johan Botha will likely have to play a bigger role.

"It wasn't a typical subcontinent wicket. There was a bit of pace and bounce and quite a bit of seam movement up front with the new ball," Richard Levi said following the match, with AB de Villiers echoing his surprise at the conditions.

It didn't help that Zimbabwe were abysmal either. In captain Brendan Taylor's own words they "were sloppy in the field, leaked runs with the ball and didn't score many runs with the bat". South Africa assessed the conditions well and bullied Zimbabwe into timidity with bursts of short bowling punctuated by mettle-testing fuller deliveries, but they can hardly expect better teams to simply miss unremarkable straight balls, like Elton Chigumbura did in Jacques Kallis' first over. It might appear from their first win that South Africa have no weaknesses, but Zimbabwe were woefully equipped to test them in any department.

To compound matters for both South Africa and Sri Lanka, their match on Saturday now becomes a dead rubber. Both sides will talk up the match as opportunity to gain momentum and build confidence ahead of the Super Eights, but with essentially nothing riding on the encounter, there is little incentive to lift performance, nor can the players prepare themselves for the big-game pressure that is to come. The teams will also be tempted to experiment with new combinations. If the strongest XI doesn't take the field, they have a ready-made excuse for losing, and neither team will take much away from the match.

There is, however, little South Africa could have done better on Thursday. Though the spinners didn't feature, the fast men are humming nicely and have proved they haven't lost their venom on the plane trip from England. Levi too, will be glad of the time in the middle, given the questions over his technique. Zimbabwe's bowling was almost as lackadaisical as their batting, but sometimes an easy opposition can help a batsman play himself into form.

"If there's a bit of liveliness in the pitch, with that sort of South African bowling attack, they're going to be very hard to beat," Taylor said. "Their batsmen are world class too. I see both them and Sri Lanka getting to the semi-finals at least."

If the Premadasa does provide fast surfaces early in the Super Eights, South Africa's attack will make them formidable. But as the tournament progresses, the better teams will ask much tougher questions than Zimbabwe did, and if the pitches change, interrogations will be in a different language as well.

Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on September 21, 2012, 10:32 GMT

    really getting fed up watching zimbabwe get smashed when Ireland are performing to a higher and more consistent standard. as soon as ireland get some sort of first class structure in place they should take zim's place as a test nation, at least until zimbabwe sort themselves out..

  • Trevor on September 21, 2012, 8:48 GMT

    This is a very misinformed article! The result between SA and SL is very important in the event of ties, no results, etc since the number of wins in the group stages will come into play in determining which team progresses to the semi-finals and final. Also, the team topping the group gets to play 1 group winning team and two 2nd place finishers in the super eight stage, whereas the team finishing 2nd plays 2 top finishing teams and one 2nd finisher. The form teams should top their groups giving them an advantage, albeit small, in possibly getting to the semi-finals.

  • Sriram on September 21, 2012, 8:19 GMT

    Why dont we see Zim or Ireland palying SL, Ind, Pak A teams in sub continent..that is the only way they will learn to play quality glad to see Ind A playing in windies and NZ..similarly SL A vs Lions in England..there is no fun in watching Zim succumb to Mendis...for they hardly play such quality spin on thier backyard..if only the boards can promote A cricket just like U19

  • Ross on September 21, 2012, 6:43 GMT

    We could certainly do without them reporting pitches like Galle because it turns a little. That Oz vs Lankans test match was awesome, with a result and skill required from both sides. It's concrete highways that kill tests.

    When it comes to developing skills, look at what SA just did: sent up-and-coming spinners on a camp to India. Don't try replicate England in India, for example...rather just send people to England to learn.

  • Jay on September 21, 2012, 4:03 GMT

    @Chris_P: The pitch was OKAY for pace bowling but come on.. it ain't no Perth, or Durban. It's still a Sri Lankan pitch that already was two paced with uneven bounce. It was the poorness of the Zimbabwean batsmen that made the pitch look monstrous. Anyway, I too would like to see Asian pitches become quicker and livelier. BUT that would only make world test cricket one dimensional and boring. The format is already a pain to watch and having uniform pitches worldwide would be... just bad for the game. Besides, nature will always have her way. The soil content in Asia is just NOT made for fast bowling. Eventually the natural qualities will take over unless Sri Lanka's climate transforms overnight. Similarly, Aussie, SA and ENG pitches won't become slow and low or rank turners. Would you want them to become that way ? I am sure you don't !

  • nandika on September 21, 2012, 0:31 GMT

    To me saffers are the best team at the moment. very interesting match coming up on saterday SL. To over come the saffers pace attack. they should open with T.M Dilshan and Chandimal.Dishan Munaweera should be rested..

  • Peter on September 20, 2012, 23:58 GMT

    Great pitch for pace bowling & the Boks showed how destructive they can be with the ball. On another note, this is the type of pitch Sri Lanka should keep in their domestic competition to develop their quick bowlers and batsman capabilities in handling bouncing seaming tracks.. If they raise their pace bowling standard, they will offer difficult games to, at least the other sub continent teams & have a group of bowlers than can exploit conditions in England, Sth Africa & ANZ as well as batsmen who can handle these tracks.

  • No featured comments at the moment.