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Match Analysis

No winds of change (yet), but USA aren't here just to make up the numbers

In a fixture that might have been termed a mismatch by many, USA showed there wasn't really a gulf between them and South Africa

Melinda Farrell
20-Jun-2024
A decent number of fans are filtering into the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium for USA vs South Africa, despite the early hour - early in Antigua terms at least.
Two large groups of white-clad school children take their seats in the shade of the Sir Curtly Ambrose and Sir Andy Roberts stands. Flags and shirts from multiple nations provide colour pops in the sultry heat; South Africa and USA, of course, but in one corner is the green and red of Bangladesh, over there is black with the fern of New Zealand, even the Welsh dragon can be seen draped over a railing.
And then there is the green of Pakistan. Just a few shirts, dotted around the grass banks, but they are there. On the field, as the players warm up, Wasim Akram and Ramiz Raja perform their pre-match broadcast duties, the commentary rota drawn up weeks earlier.
The press box, which would be bustling with travelling journalists if the group stage had followed the script, is virtually empty, save for ICC staff and volunteers.
This was supposed to be South Africa vs Pakistan, but USA's fairytale progression to the Super Eight spoiled that storyline. This stage is meant to be reserved for the big guns, the real contenders. Never mind. Order will undoubtedly be restored and USA will get a reality check without the levelling aid of those American pitches. They are only here to make up the numbers.
The departure of Reeza Hendricks in the third over, a top edge off Saurabh Netravalkar that hangs for an age before falling into Corey Anderson's waiting hands, is merely a blip. Aiden Markram joins Quinton de Kock in the middle; two guns waiting for a trigger pull.
It arrives in the following over. Jasdeep Singh comes into the attack from the Sir Andy Roberts end, bowling right-arm over the wicket to the right-hand batter Markram. The ball pitches outside off stump, at the perfect length for driving. Markram obliges, punching through the covers for four. Jasdeep adjusts his line for the next delivery, angling into the pads and Markram flicks it into the leg side for a single.
Now the left-hand batter de Kock is on strike and Jasdeep switches to come around the wicket. He angles the ball in but it's short enough to pull and de Kock helps it on its way to deep midwicket for a boundary.
De Kock has help of another kind; the stiff cross winds that have the tall, slender ICC flags flapping and leaning, as if trying to escape from their anchors. The palm trees around the stadium are permanently slanted in the same direction after years of buffeting. Everything that can move is pointing in the same direction: de Kock's leg-side boundary.
Jasdeep bowls another, but it's too similar to the last. This time de Kock gets all of it and the ball soars in to the breeze, over the rope, over the fence. It's a front-foot no-ball. The free hit delivery strays onto the pads and it's another gift for de-structive de Kock, who lofts it high and fine and lets the wind do the rest.
Now Jasdeep switches to over the wicket and bowls a middle-stump line at a similar length. The adjustment almost works as de Kock top-edges the attempted pull and the ball appears to go straight up. At most grounds it would land in catchable territory, but this is not most grounds. Here it hovers high and drifts further and further towards the fielder at deep backward square leg and ultimately over his head and the rope.
The final ball is fuller, pitches outside off stump and de Kock drives straight to cover. No run. Twenty-eight off the over and South Africa are on their way; trigger pulled, shots fired.
Looking down from above it all looks obvious, the danger areas for bowlers depending on whether the batter is left or right handed, hitting into or with the wind. Certainly the conditions are not foreign to USA head coach Stuart Law, who spent two years in the same position with West Indies. But having plans to deal with the match-ups, the ends and the wind is not the same as executing them under the pressure that builds when the slightest error is severely punished. It is no coincidence the only two deliveries of Jasdeep's over that forced the batters to play into the wind were a dot ball and a single.
But USA's bowlers are quick learners and not easily cowed. They concede just two fours and three sixes in their final five overs, backed up by sharp fielding, and their body language remains positive.
Their self-belief is epitomised by the fearless batting of Andries Gous, the former South African, who punishes anything loose by his former countrymen and also takes advantage of the fortuitous gusts. His late-innings partnership with Harmeet Singh poses a left-right combination that, this time, disrupts Tabraiz Shamsi, who is left watching the ball sail onto the same grass banks that were a green magnet for de Kock.
"USA! USA!" The school kids, the whole stadium, take up the chant. It's surreal and slightly incongruous to hear, intermingled with the soca music - ubiquitous throughout the Caribbean - blaring from the speakers.
That the 195 target proves too high is largely due to the control of Keshav Maharaj in the middle phase and the discipline of Kasigo Rabada, whose miserly calm in the 17th and 19th overs snuffs out any hope of another USA upset.
South Africa have been quicker to adapt and their experience has ensured they continue their campaign undefeated.
But the expected reality check, the folding of an Associate team when they are behind in what some would term a mismatch, has not quite transpired. And if USA continue to learn and adapt to the Caribbean conditions, they may yet shake up the Super Eight.
They are not just here to make up the numbers.

Melinda Farrell is a journalist and broadcaster