ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
New Zealand v South Africa, quarter-final, World Cup 2011, Mirpur
South Africa bank on successful strategy
Firdose Moonda in Mirpur
March 24, 2011
South Africa will approach their quarter-final match against New Zealand in much the same way as each of their group games - by playing to plans and laying a platform rather than attempting anything overly flashy. Some call it calculation, others cautiousness, but for South Africa it's a tactic that's worked on pitches that have made this World Cup a far more even contest between bat and ball.
The Mirpur pitch has yielded one high-scoring game, in the tournament opener, and another, isolated meaty total from South Africa last week but all the other five scores have been low. It's a surface that has been slow and required patience, and South Africa have reason to approach it with care. "It's not a free-flowing wicket here, you need to set your base and work hard," Graeme Smith said at his pre-match press conference in Mirpur.
In their six group stage matches, South Africa have had practice in building an innings from the ground, with cautious starts that allow for explosive endings. They went at less than five runs an over in the first four games: on a tricky Delhi surface against West Indies, on the most seamer-friendly pitch they've come across in India in Mohali against Netherlands, on a crumbling Chennai pitch against England and even on a batsmen's paradise against India in Nagpur. They crept over the five-an-over mark at Eden Gardens against Ireland and in Mirpur against Bangladesh, but not by much.
Four out of those six times, the team has gone on to score more than 250, indicating that the acceleration in the run rate comes later on. It's a move away from the style of one-day cricket that was seen a few years ago, when teams would look to reach 75 runs or more inside the first 15 overs. It may be the result of the additional Powerplay that can be taken later on, but even that's proved to be a double-edged sword for batsmen, who can lose their wicket in a moment of rashness. On pitches where there is something for the bowlers, it's created a delightful tension that can run through an innings and one that can only be broken if there is a solid base laid first on which the fireworks can shoot off from.
Smith expects the pitch on which the quarter-final will be played to be similar to the surfaces they have found throughout the sub-continent, perhaps with a little more life. "It looks very green, probably because we are not used to seeing grass here so it might be more even paced than the wickets we have played on previously," Smith said. That doesn't mean it's going to be a strip the seamers can make merry on. "I expect it to turn a bit, because it's still very dry."
It will present a challenge for the batsmen and the bowlers, who will have to exploit conditions to their advantage. After watching Pakistan's demolition job of West Indies last night, South Africa may be prompted to go in with all three frontline spinners. The convenor of selectors, Andrew Hudson, only arrived this morning, and Smith could not reveal whether that is their line of thinking just yet. Going down that route will probably mean going in with only six, specialist batsmen which suggests that Morne van Wyk will have to be benched and AB de Villiers would have to keep, a decision that can only be taken later on.
If de Villiers can't keep and if the choice becomes two out of the three spinners, matters get more puzzling. Legspinner Imran Tahir is certain to play a role, because of his wicket-taking ability that complements the strikeforce of seamers. "Imran has been an asset. He is the most attacking of the spinners," Smith said. There should also be place for left-arm spinner Robin Peterson, who took a career-best 4 for 12 against Bangladesh and is the team's highest wicket-taker. "It's been a process for Robbie. He has been around the team for a long time and in the last six to eight months people have been showing confidence in him and that has helped his self-belief," Smith said.
While Johan Botha didn't get any special words from Smith at today's press conference, his ability to control the game in the middle overs has already earned him high praise. Botha does exactly what Smith was referring to in a batting sense, about working hard and building a base, in the bowling sense. Because of his primary ability as a container, Botha works on drying up runs and in the process is usually on the receiving end of wickets, particularly in the crucial middle phase of an innings.
Smith recognised that having someone who can perform that role is what has made the South African attack more dynamic. "We've been able to pick up wickets outside of the fist 10-15 overs in the middle period. It's a mindset thing, the spinners believe they can take wickets and as the captain, I have to believe in them."
It could boil down to another selection dilemma for South Africa, one they will be only too happy to have. In keeping with the watchful nature of their approach, they will pick the starting XI on who best will contest with the opposition on the day. Smith said that New Zealand have "a top four with power hitters who take the game to you," which could imply the need for a container in the Botha mould. Smith also said the New Zealand bowlers have done a good job of "taking the pace off the ball," which means that the middle order, which is most likely to face those bowlers, will be expected to give another solid account of itself.