'Glowing' SA ready for big game pressure
As is always the case at major tournaments, South Africa's mindset will be under the microscope at this World T20, and the shortest format could prove to be their toughest test yet. Dale Steyn, who is fit-again after two months on the sidelines with a "broken shoulder," explained that while Test cricket presents more of a physical challenge, Twent20s takes its toll in other ways.
"The T20 game can be quite mentally hard. Being a bowler, you've only got four overs. If you find the edge, it can go for four and it's not your fault. In Test matches you've got five days to make up for it," Steyn said in Mumbai, where South Africa face England on Friday. "T20 is slightly easier on the body but it might be more taxing on the mind."
Steyn believes South Africa are in a good space. Despite losing at home to Australia, their five-match winning streak over England prior to that did wonders for their self-worth. "When I walked into the side, I could see the guys were glowing with confidence," Steyn said. "I realised how much these guys have grown as a team even in that two month gap that I had."
Now, that growth will be tested under major tournament pressure.
The fast pace of a T20 game means mistakes have to be forgotten as quickly as they happen, so South Africa have worked on living in the moment. "We talk about it in our bowling meetings and our team meetings: It's the next ball that matters," Steyn said. "You can go for 80 runs in 3.5 overs, but when a team needs four runs to win off the last ball, and you've got that ball in your hand, that's all that matters."
Steyn has experienced that first-hand, albeit not in this format. At last year's 50-over World Cup, New Zealand needed five off runs off two balls in the semi-final. Steyn was hit for six. All that mattered was that ball, even though Steyn has banished it from his memory. "It's a pity that everyone thinks about that ball. I think about what happened after that ball. Grant Elliot came and picked me up."
South Africa have travelled to this World T20 with largely the same squad that played in that event, which will raise questions about old scars. But, of the three players who did not play in last year's World Cup, one has tasted success the rest can only dream of. Kagiso Rabada is an under-19 World Cup winner and has injected new life into the senior side. Steyn hinted that Rabada's state of mind - fresh and uncluttered - could make the difference.
"He is fantastic. He is really quick, but he is also unpredictable. I don't think many teams have played against him yet, so it's not like they can plan for him. He is surprising for us too," Steyn said. "I will be standing down there at fine leg thinking he is going to bowl a gun bouncer and he comes up with a beautiful yorker. He has got a gut feel for himself and that's his biggest strength right now. People don't know what he is going to deliver."
In Steyn and Rabada, South Africa have the core of a pace pack that will be the envy of all their opponents, but on Indian pitches, they may need something else, and it's something they still lack - a spin attack.
South Africa have Imran Tahir, who is ranked third on the T20 rankings and has won matches on his own, but their only other specialist spinner is Aaron Phangiso, who they may not use at all. Phangiso travelled through the 2015 World Cup without playing a game and has just remodeled his action after it was declared illegal. JP Duminy can bowl some part-time off-spin, but South Africa will still rely on the quicks to do most of the work.
After New Zealand upset India with three spinners on a dry Nagpur pitch - where South Africa will play West Indies - South Africa may be wondering whether their resources will be enough. But Steyn wants to erase any doubts from their mind with an assurance that he can fill in any gaps.
"I've always said I can bowl on anything. I prefer the wickets that are slow and turning because the ball stops. It makes it tough for batters to hit you out of the ground," he said. "As a seamer, I back myself to bowl fast cutters. It is really difficult to hit out when the ball is coming at 140-145 [kph], its gripping and stopping. You don't have to worry about running in and bowling the perfect yorker. You can bowl a back of a length ball, one might bounce and skid, one might stay low, and it's really tough to bat on those wickets."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent