Tabraiz Shamsi to play South Africa's T20 World Cup opener after passing fitness test
Captain Temba Bavuma says South Africa could field three frontline spinners, but will take call on the morning of the match
The world's top-ranked T20I bowler, Tabraiz Shamsi, will play the Men's T20 World Cup Super 12 opener against Australia after passing a fitness test following an injury scare earlier in the week. Shamsi was only able to deliver four balls in South Africa's warm-up match against Pakistan on Wednesday before leaving the field with a groin concern. He was assessed by the medical staff and has been given the green-light for Saturday's match.
It's a particularly important fixture for the spinner. It's his first at a T20 World Cup, he is one wicket away from 50 T20I career wickets and four from the most T20I wickets in a calendar year. In conditions that are expected to reward spinners and Imran Tahir's absence, the stage is set for him to make this tournament his own as part of a South African side that has embraced the value of spin.
Captain Temba Bavuma - who has himself recovered from a broken thumb - said South Africa could field three frontline spinners and will take a call on the morning of the match. Their other option would be two spinners - Shamsi and most likely Keshav Maharaj - and three quicks. Either way, South Africa are likely to stick to their six-specialist batter line-up, and recognise it would be their soft spot against a fierce Australia attack.
"Their bowling attack is quite strong. They are the type of team that look to strike upfront and really try to get into the middle order," Bavuma said. "We want to make sure we play the powerplay as well as we can so we don't allow them to get into the middle order with their slower bowlers."
Batting in that powerplay, will be Bavuma himself, who only returned to facing bowlers last week after a six-week layoff and still has a heavily strapped thumb, but got through South Africa's warm-up fixtures "unscathed". His strike rate was under 80 in the first match against Afghanistan but snuck over 100 in the second against Pakistan, and he explained it as a result of feeling his way back in. "From my side, not having played cricket for quite a while, that probably contributed [to my strike rate]," Bavuma said. "I was also adjusting to conditions and trying to formulate a game plan but being out of the game for quite a while, that was probably the main contributor."
Nonetheless Bavuma was aware that there could be some criticism over his pacing of innings, and the team in general. "We understand our fans and media are quite unforgiving," he said. "There is a high demand for excellence at all times and we understand that as professionals, we will be judged according to that standard. There are certain things we can control and that's what we do on the field. Everything else we try to keep away from the team. We try to focus as much energy inwards and on each other. That's something we've done over the last while. As a team, as individuals we've come under heavy attack from the media, from the fans over the last while. I don't think it will be any different. We will keep doing what we've been doing."
And what they've been doing is winning. South Africa enter the tournament on the back of three successive T20I series wins and have won nine of their last 10 matches. They've got a better record than Australia, who have been their major-tournament nemesis in the past and still give them some nervous moments. "There is a bit of anxiety amongst the guys; a bit of butterflies. That's something that's expected," Bavuma said. "In terms of coming up against Australia, there's no bigger motivation for the guys. Clashes against Australia have always been full of fire and we don't expect it to be any different tomorrow. Both teams are under pressure. What has happened in the past - you have to put it behind. A competitive side, a powerful side like Australia won't allow those performances to deter them going forward. We won't be undermining them looking at their past results. We know what type of team they are and it will be important we bring our A game."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent