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Match Analysis

Rabada returns to form but SA batting still a concern

South Africa appear on course for a semi-final spot, even though they seem to be a team filled with top-order players

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Give them some green and some swing, and South Africa's attack goes from impressive to almost unplayable. That's just as well, because the same can probably be said about many pace bowlers, including Taksin Ahmed, who caused some wobbles in what should have been a straightforward chase of 85. Amid South Africa's continued batting concerns. their bowlers have kept their knockout hopes alive, with all of them having found some form, including Kagiso Rabada, who took a career-best 3 for 20 against Bangladesh.
Crucially, all of Rabada's wickets came in the Powerplay, where he has not been as effective as would have been expected. Though Rabada had taken 39 T20 wickets in the UAE before today, the third-most for any bowler in the last three years, he had only taken four in the Powerplay. Now, that's up to seven wickets out of 42 although of the 22 bowlers who have that number of Powerplay wickets or more, Rabada's strike rate is the worst.
That's all much of a muchness when you consider how effective Rabada has been outside of the Powerplay. His 35 wickets from overs 6 to 20 in the UAE have come at an average of 16.6 and strike rate of 11.8, and that may be a result of how he has been used. "In the past, I was asked to bowl more in the middle overs. Now, I am bowling a lot more in the Powerplay so I have to find a way in the Powerplay," he said. "Different captains use me at different times. I know I can bowl at any phase of the game and I will be expected to bowl at any phase of the game. Wherever I am asked to bowl, I try to make the most out of it."
Rabada is right in that his use in the Powerplay had decreased and is only just going back up. Up to 2017, 55.8% of the deliveries he bowled in T20s were in the Powerplay. In 2018 and 2019, that went down to 28.9% and 22.6% respectively. In the last two years, Rabada has bowled just over 30% of his T20 deliveries in the Powerplay. Although that's still some distance off what it was, it seems that under Temba Bavuma, and in specifically helpful conditions, his role in that period could increase. "I bowled three overs upfront and there was a bit of bounce, a bit of seam movement and some swing. The conditions were in my favour and all I had to do was get the ball in the right area," he said.
On a green top, with humidity at over 70% - the highest it has been for several days - Rabada found late swing and good bounce. His headline delivery was the inswinging yorker that beat Soumya Sarkar's defensive push and struck him on the front boot. With Anrich Nortje, who also bagged a career-best with his 3 for 8, South Africa has an attack that could get them into the knockouts. But they need their batting to inspire a little more confidence in following suit.
South Africa have too many top-order players and not enough middle-order batters in the line-up. Although they insist their strength is flexibility, they're really just moving opening batters around and may need to sacrifice one of them to make room for their only other option: Heinrich Klaasen. But which one?
Quinton de Kock has not contributed much besides the biggest controversy of the tournament so far, but his reputation makes him undroppable. Aiden Markram is doing well at No.4 and contributes some overs while Rassie van der Dussen has been in the runs and is relied on as steadier. That may mean Reeza Hendricks, who has been rewarded for stepping up when it mattered, but hasn't done enough since. Even if Hendricks is left out, Klaasen's run hasn't been much better. He scored 11 and 14 in the warm-ups and 13 against Australia, compared to Hendricks' 7 in the warm-up, 39 against West Indies and 11 and 4 since then.
Ultimately, that means South Africa have to hope that Temba Bavuma's form will continue. Bavuma is not known for being a particularly quick run-getter but his run-a-ball 46 set South Africa up to beat West Indies and he struck at over 100 against Bangladesh. He also seems comfortable coming in lower down the order and bulletproof to the many questions that are asked about his credentials. And he has his defenders, like Rabada.
"With Temba… the results are there. There is nothing more to say about that," Rabada said. "You will always have critics and it's something we make peace with. You can't take the good without the bad."
So far at this tournament, there has been much more good than bad to Bavuma's leadership. Apart from his runs, he handled the de Kock issue with diplomacy and empathy and he has been creative in his field placings and clever with his bowling changes. He has made sure South Africa have ticked the boxes they have wanted to, including in their win against Bangladesh, where they have taken their net run-rate into the black. "We tried to finish the game as early as possible. There was a clear instruction that we should try to finish the game before 15 overs and we did that."
South Africa knocked off the 85 runs they needed inside 14 overs and now have their fate in their own hands. Their match against England on Saturday is effectively a quarter-final, albeit only from South Africa's side. Victory will more than likely see them through, even if Australia win their remaining two matches because of their positive net run-rate. Even defeat could get them into the last four, which is more than many would have expected when they came into this tournament and may be a sign that things are not nearly as bad as they seemed.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent