Move over Jonty, here comes Engelbrecht
Most of the South Africa Under-19 bowlers, barring their captain Wayne Parnell and his new-ball partner Matthew Arnold, will not strike fear into the hearts of opposition batsmen. The medium-pacers and spinners during the middle-overs will need an exceptional day to run through most teams; yet on Sunday they managed to restrict India, the strongest batting side of the Under-19 World Cup, to a meagre 159, thank to their fielders.
The athleticism in the field made South Africa's attack doubly efficient: the bowlers stuck to a disciplined length on one side of the wicket and relied on their team-mates to cut off the runs. India's batsmen saw scorching cover drives stopped by bodies that flew out of nowhere, and a few of them succumbed to the frustration.
While all of South Africa's fielders are top draw, some are more potent than the others and none more so that Sybrand Engelbrecht. He was an unknown until South Africa used him as a substitute often during the group stages and then he made people gape by pulling off a catch against Papua New Guinea that would rival Jonty Rhodes' best.
Engelbrecht was the most visible player on the field in the final against India. Fielding at point during the initial overs, he walked in with purpose as the bowler ran in, made quick ground to dive to his left or right, rushed to back up throws from fielders and egged his team-mates on vocally. He moved from point to cover or midwicket when the spinners came on to bowl, always coveting the position where the ball went often. When Manish Pandey drove Mohammad Vallie twice to cover, Engelbrecht, at midwicket, indicated that he wanted to change positions. Towards the final overs, South Africa had him at long-on for that's where the batsmen were hitting the ball most frequently.
Engelbrecht had a key role in three crucial wickets. Tanmay Srivastava was batting fluently to consolidate India's innings after two early wickets. The boundaries were difficult to find because of the sharp fielding and Srivastava tried to slice Roy Adams over point. Engelbrecht timed his jump to perfection and was several feet off the ground when he took the catch. That followed a similar but even more spectacular catch at point to dismiss Virat Kohli, who had begun to open up by clouting Pieter Malan over extra cover for six. Engelbrecht later displayed a calm mind during his run-out of Iqbal Abdulla: he had sprinted in quickly to cause confusion between Ravindra Jadeja, who had tapped the ball towards point, and Abdulla. Engelbrecht's speed and smooth picked up forced Jadeja to send Abdulla back. He had a view of the stumps but Engelbrecht waited for the bowler to move into position before timing his lobbed throw to catch Abdulla short.
While Engelbrecht was the stand-out performer in the field, the others could have bettered the best in most other teams. Riley Rossouw is a tall boy but he used his reach to good effect at cover and Jonathan Vandiar stopped several boundaries at long-off with his quick ground speed.
The cornerstone to South Africa's pressure-building tactics, however, is their wicketkeeper Bradley Barnes. He stands up to the stumps against the medium-pacers, though Ray Jennings said he could do it against Parnell as well, and does not allow the batsmen to stand, or step out, of the crease to try and put the bowler off his length. His reflexes and presence of mind are razor-sharp. During the final he was alert enough to stump Saurabh Tiwary even though the batsman had his back foot firmly grounded. Barnes, however, was wise to the fact that Tiwary's runner Srivastava had backed up too far and was outside the crease. Excellent catch and sharp stumpings apart, Barnes has let only two byes go through the entire tournament.
Superior fielding teams often win one-day matches. Sunday's final was an exception but South Africa's magnificent effort was the difference between India making 160 and somewhere close to 200.
George Binoy is a staff writer at Cricinfo