Du Plessis backs batting combination
So this is how South Africa want their T20 line-up to work. Start slowly, build calmly and then have a full go at the end, like they did today against New Zealand.
That is the reason they insist on keeping Hashim Amla, who is too often labeled 'not a T20 player,' at the top of the order, and why they do not want to promote AB de Villiers into it. They see Amla as having the right measure of conservatism and class to kick things off and de Villiers, along with David Miler and Albie Morkel, as having the creativity to close things off.
When it works, even when not exactly according to plan, it results in totals like today which South Africa will back themselves to defend. Despite the squeaky-bum ending, the score would have left most teams comfortable and was a nod to what South Africa are aiming for with the combinations they have in operation now.
South Africa have divided the innings up into segments, starting with the powerplay. Faf Du Plessis said in Chittagong they've decided "45 seems to be the par score so I wanted to get close to that and not more than two wickets down." South Africa were 42 for 3 in the first six overs, a little short and an extra man down but they were there and thereabouts, especially because the man they want to survive the opening exchanges, Amla, was still there.
"Hashim's role is to bat with someone. If someone else on the other side keeps scoring boundaries, Hashim can be the structure and the solidness through the batting line-up," du Plessis explained. "If we look at our top five, it's made up of guys who, apart from Hashim, naturally play aggressively so he fits into that game plan. It's his role to manoeuvre the rest of the innings."
Amla is not required to go at a strike rate of much more than 100, which is where he hovered throughout his innings today. He is not required to take risks either which is what has earned him so much criticism from those feel he is not fit for this format. It's worth remembering Amla occupied the top spot on the ODI batting rankings not long ago and du Plessis is confident Amla can change tack if he needs to. "If there is a day where those guys don't score runs then Hashim knows that he has to play a little bit quicker."
Today was not that day because JP Duminy was on the other end, timing the ball and finding the boundary. All Amla had to do was "stay with JP for a period of time to make sure that our hitters at the back didn't come in when there were too many balls left." In other words, Amla has to keep things going for as long as possible in the second-third of the innings because only after that, should the rest be needed.
South Africa do not subscribe to the theory that the most destructive hitters need to face the most balls. They don't want de Villiers, Miller and Morkel batting when the majority of overs are still to be bowled. Perhaps that is because, as Miller and Morkel showed, they are only up for a quick boom-boom before the bust. Perhaps they only do that because they don't have any time to settle but the chicken-egg debate is not one South Africa are aiming to solve.
They've decided what comes first and it's not the men they have labeled finishers. "We need to make sure we have Miller and Morkel coming in towards the end of the innings not when they have to still worry about rotating the strike but where they can just play their natural game," du Plessis said.
The big-hitters don't always come off but they have the best chance to if Amla and then Duminy allow them the freedom to, as they did today "JP controlled the innings beautifully. He took risks when it was needed and made sure the strike was rotated," du Plessis said. "As a blueprint of a T20 innings, that's one of the better ones you will see."
It was textbook because Duminy was circumspect to start and upped his tempo later without getting carried away. "In a perfect world, you always want that freedom to express yourself but with freedom comes a little bit of responsibility," Duminy said. "We are finding the right mix. If we can perfect that, we stand a good chance of producing results in these kinds of tournaments."
Duminy has found the balance and it resulted in two top-scores for the team in two matches. More importantly for him, it gave South Africa's bowlers something to work with, which is what the batsmen are there for, after all. "I'm glad that it gave us a chance to defend because at one stage we didn't think we'd get to 170," Duminy said. "I'm pretty happy with the innings but if Dale and the rest of the bowlers didn't produce something it wouldn't have meant anything." That it did will give South Africa confidence what they are doing with their batting line-up could work.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent