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Can Zimbabwe batsmen back their bowlers to end losing streak?

Brendan Taylor became the third Zimbabwe batsman to 6000 ODI runs AFP

Big Picture

Zimbabwe's bowlers have teed up strong positions throughout this tour. As the T20I series moves up into the Highveld and what should be the best batting conditions yet encountered, the visitors' misfiring top order now has a chance to get it right, especially when a major obstacle has now been removed from their path.

Imran Tahir has been a wicket-taking, hairband-wearing, celebrating nightmare for Zimbabwe all tour. The legspinner has taken 15 wickets in four games, and his trademark wide-armed sprint towards the boundary after taking a wicket is being memed by fans at games now.

For Zimbabwe, Sean Williams has been the only batsman to score a fifty, and there have been seven ducks up and down the order as Tahir helped himself to a hat-trick in the second ODI and a career-best 5 for 23 in the first T20I on Tuesday. But this limited-overs tour has been as much about figuring out their best combinations in white-ball cricket as it has been about winning for South Africa, possibly even more so, and the decision was made to rest Tahir for the remainder of the series so that the selectors can have a closer look at the team's other bowling options.

They will also be watching their new batsmen keenly. Albeit in difficult conditions, the performance of South Africa's top and middle order was patchy in the ODIs before fifties from Reeza Hendricks and Heinrich Klaasen turned things around in Paarl. It was Rassie van der Dussen's turn in East London, for whom his debut fifty was "a dream come true".

Van der Dussen also offered the somewhat ominous warning that having had a look at Zimbabwe's bowling, he would look to push even harder at a venue he knows intimately. Senwes Park was van der Dussen's home ground when he played for North West, and his short-format record here is nothing short of phenomenal.

Fifteen games deep in a losing streak across formats, Zimbabwe desperately need a win, and a positive result might do a little to raise the sombre mood back home. Many Zimbabwe fans are more focused on the impending economic meltdown in their country at the moment than they are on the team's performance, but a win could still be a spark in the gloom.

Form guide

South Africa WLLWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)

Zimbabwe LLLLL

In the spotlight

Brandon Mavuta has had an impact in all of Zimbabwe's matches so far, and it will be interesting to see how he responds to conditions unlikely to favour his style. He was Zimbabwe's most economical bowler in the first T20I - registering figures of 1 for 19 from his four overs - and if he can pull off a similar performance, the visitors will be far more likely to keep South Africa's total within reach.

Tabraiz Shamsi is under a different sort of pressure to Mavuta, having been one of the few South Africa bowlers to struggle in this series. He was wicketless in Paarl, earning South Africa's most expensive figures against Zimbabwe in the process, and felt the brunt of Peter Moor's hitting in East London. But with Tahir gone, he is South Africa's only spin option (apart from JP Duminy) in an attack brimming with right-arm quicks, and his variation could be key to control in the middle overs.

Team news

With Tahir rested and spin less likely to be a factor, South Africa could look to beef up their lower-middle order with allrounder Robbie Frylinck. He strikes the ball at 148.22 in T20s and would lengthen a batting order that looked a little light on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Christiaan Jonker hasn't quite fired yet and will be under a little pressure if he plays ahead of JP Duminy and Heinrich Klaasen.

South Africa (possible): 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Gihahn Cloete, 3 Faf du Plessis (capt), 4 Rassie van der Dussen, 5 David Miller, 6 Christiaan Jonker, 7 Robbie Frylinck, 8 Andile Phehlukwayo, 9 Junior Dala, 10 Lungi Ngidi, 11 Tabraiz Shamsi

Elton Chigumbura has picked up two ducks in his last three innings, and Zimbabwe may tinker with their lower-middle order as they look to fill the holes in their batting line-up. Chamu Chibhabha and Solomon Mire have done the job down the order before, but these days the two play as openers. Seaming allrounder Neville Madziva is another option, and he has proven himself in high-pressure situations with both bat and ball in the past.

Zimbabwe (possible): 1 Chamu Chibhabha, 2 Hamilton Masakadza, 3 Brendan Taylor, 4 Tarisai Musakanda, 5 Sean Williams, 6 Peter Moor, 7 Elton Chigumbura/Neville Madziva, 8 Tendai Chisoro, 9 Brandon Mavuta, 10 Kyle Jarvis, 11 Chris Mpofu

Pitch and conditions

Potchefstroom usually offers a flat pitch and a fast outfield, though it's still a little early in the season and the track may not have flattened out entirely. It may be a little cloudy on Friday afternoon and evening, but it should be warm and there's no rain predicted.

Stats and trivia

  • All three of Rassie van der Dussen's domestic T20 hundreds were scored in Potchefstroom: two of them for North West, and one for the Lions franchise.

  • The last time South Africa played a T20I in Potchefstroom, David Miller broke the record for the fastest century in the format - since equalled by Rohit Sharma - off 35 balls against Bangladesh.

  • Senwes Park has seen three T20 team totals above 200, and a couple of near misses. South Africa soared on Miller's century to reach 224 for 4 against Bangladesh, but there have been two scores that are higher still. In 2005, Eagles reached 225 for 6 against Lions, and in 2014, North West reached 226 for 4 against Namibia.

Quotes

"Our bowlers have been fantastic this whole tour, and as a batting unit, we owe it to them to pull ourselves together over the next two games."
Zimbabwe batsman Peter Moor knows that his team have not backed up solid bowling performances with the bat

"We might have some high-scoring games if the wickets are like they usually are in Potch [Potchefstroom] and Benoni."
Rassie van der Dussen knows only too well how good the conditions can be for batting in Potchefstroom