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Dwaine Pretorius relishing new role of death-overs specialist

With five different slower variations in his arsenal, he has become his captain's go-to end-overs bowler

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Captain Bavuma has used Pretorius mostly at the death at the T20 World Cup  •  AFP/Getty Images

Captain Bavuma has used Pretorius mostly at the death at the T20 World Cup  •  AFP/Getty Images

Dwaine Pretorius has fallen into a death-bowling role because the rest of South Africa's attack is doing so well that they have to be used earlier in the innings.
"Maybe the situations of the games dictated that I might have to bowl a few of the last overs," he said. "We've been striking quite early and our spin department has been phenomenal. So maybe Temba (Bavuma) is just struggling to get a spot for me to bowl in the middle because the other guys are bowling so well, so it's left me with the end job."
It's a big responsibility for someone without much of a track record but Pretorius, who previously had an economy rate of 10.38 in 36 overs at the death, has outdone himself in the last three matches. He has taken six wickets and conceded at a rate of 8.64 and has managed to surprise batters with his variations.
"The danger at the death is being predictable so I'm trying to vary my pace and my lengths quite a bit, even though my line is the same," he said. "I'm trying to keep the guys guessing and trying to make sure I am bowling to their guys' plan Cs and Ds instead of their plan A. It's not an ego battle out there, it's trying to be effective as much as possible. I am willing to do that ugly job. It doesn't necessarily always have to look the prettiest but it's effective. And I have built my whole career on that."
Specifically, Pretorius has spent this tournament maintaining a fairly wide line outside the off stump and delivering a variety of slower balls, with as many as five different ones in his arsenal. Tabraiz Shamsi called Pretorius a "scholar of the game," after South Africa's victory against Sri Lanka and the allrounder confirmed as much as he explained how he has been training.
"I worked a lot on different variations of slower balls. In the T20 World Cup, if you've only got one option, you'd be in trouble so I am really trying to mix it up. Even though the line may be predictable, you are still not sure which ball is going to come out. Having five options is something that I have really worked hard on," he said. "You try and prepare for every situation you may be thrown into. That's my secret at the moment: trying to make sure that I am prepared for any situation."
Pretorius reached that point the hard way. He fractured a rib and missed the home series against Pakistan in April and then contracted Covid-19 and wasn't able to go on South Africa's winter tours to the West Indies and Ireland. "It was a frustrating time in my career," he said. "On day one after getting Covid-19, I was stressed. But I am quite a religious guy so after day one, I sent up a prayer and then I just trusted that at the end of the day, God's will will be done. That was my method of dealing with it mentally. I am very blessed that I am here."
Luckily for Pretorius, he only had a mild case of the virus and returned to training within the stipulated protocol times and was back for South Africa's series in Sri Lanka." If I didn't test, I would have thought I just had a stuffy nose," Pretorius said. I got through it quite easily. I was quite fortunate. I could start training quite early. Some players have it tougher than I have."
Pretorius was picked in the T20 World Cup squad ahead of George Linde and Andile Phehlukwayo and has so far been preferred over Wiaan Mulder in the starting XI. Although he has not contributed with the bat yet, he is proving decisive in the last four overs for South Africa and has embraced the ethos of contributing to the collective. "We are not relying on one or two superstars to get us over the line. Our whole team is contributing. There's a lot of guys that have got in, scored runs. Our team is in a very good space."
Much like the rest of the talk that has come out of the South African camp in the last week post the CSA board directive that the entire team must take a knee and the aftermath of that, Pretorius delivered a message of unity. "What astonishes me is how this team has struck together. It doesn't really matter what controversy comes out or what is happening at board level or CSA level," he said. "The guys are forming a family."
Unlike teams such as India, who have spent longer in bubbles and complained of fatigue, Pretorius said the pandemic is having some positive spin-offs for South Africa, who have emerged from their status as underdogs to a team to watch in the next few days. "That's probably one of the biggest advantages when it comes to Covid and bubble life. You are forced to spend a lot of time together," he said. "You start to realise how much it means to each other to be playing for your country. It doesn't matter if it's a single, a no-ball or a wide, whenever we give that away, we are going to fight to get that back. We are not going to stop fighting until the last ball is bowled. We are not going to leave anything to chance. That's our promise to each other in the team every day."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent