There are no easy matches in a 10-team World Cup. But for South Africa who are one defeat away from a near-certain early exit, the New Zealand clash on Wednesday is as tough a contest as one can hope for.
The Proteas were provided a lifeline by inclement weather against the West Indies after slipping to 29-2 before registering their first win – against Afghanistan. After three straight defeats, the absence of another ‘L’ was good news.
However, the Proteas took their own time while chasing down 125 against the Afghans, taking nearly 30 overs to do so while their next opponents New Zealand reached a similar target in 16. The Proteas must hope net run rate does not come into play later on or they will rue that limp chase.
NGIDI REGAINS FITNESS
South Africa desperately need some good news, following injury to pace spearhead Dale Steyn and the World Cup ‘offer’ saga of AB de Villiers. Ngidi injured him hamstring during the defeat to Bangladesh and that severely stretched the already thin South African resources.
But on the eve of the New Zealand clash, Ngidi cleared the fitness test.
“It’s 100 per cent,” Ngidi said. “That’s how the fitness test goes. If you are not bowling at 100% then you are obviously not ready to play. Today was as hard as I could go, at match-intensity.”
That would be music to the ears of Faf du Plessis as he needs all the bowling firepower he can lay his hands on against the unbeaten New Zealand.
A STEP UP FOR THE KIWIS
New Zealand are one of two unbeaten teams this World Cup, apart from India. However, their results are tempered by fact that they have come against Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bangladesh with the India-clash washed out.
Bangladesh are not a ‘small’ team anymore and they ran the Kiwis close, going down by two wickets. The South Africans will provide the first major test, at least to the top order batsmen in the form of pacers Kagiso Rabada, Ngidi and in-form leg-spinner Imran Tahir.
The wicket in Birmingham is likely to be dry, which means run scoring might not be easy.
The path ahead for the Kiwis will only get tougher with West Indies, Pakistan, Australia and England in waiting. How they perform against an equally potent – at least on paper – South African side will prove their title credentials.
South Africa: Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock (wk), Aiden Markram, Faf du Plessis (c), Rassie van der Dussen, Andile Phehlukwayo, David Miller, Chris Morris, Kagiso Rabada, Imran Tahir, Lungi Ngidi
New Zealand: Martin Guptill, Colin Munro, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Tom Latham (wk), Jimmy Neesham, Colin de Grandhomme, Mitchell Santner, Matt Henry, Lockie Ferguson, Trent Boult
Shakib Al Hasan has been among the top three all-rounders in the world for a decade. That’s 10 years of excellence with the bat and ball in ODIs, home and away.
It is very difficult to be equally good with the bat and ball at the international level; one aspect of your game tends to take over after one point. But 13 years after his international bow, Shakib has managed to emerge as Bangladesh’s best batsman and bowler. And in a consistent and talented team like Bangladesh, it is no mean feat.
Shakib is breaking ODI all-rounder records for fun. He was the fastest by a country mile to the double of 6,000 runs and 250 wickets, taking 92 fewer innings than Shahid Afridi. In the ongoing World Cup, Shakib has emerged as the MVP by leading the run-scoring chart – 384 runs from four innings with two tons and as many fifties – and five wickets at an economy of less than six.
One reason for the stupendous effort – after uncertainty following a finger fracture earlier in the year – is his recent promotion to the No3 position which, according to Shakib, has allowed him more time to settle into an innings and play for as long as possible.
But the second, and equally important, reason is the time and effort he put into his World Cup preparations.
The 32-year-old was in India for the IPL with Sunrisers Hyderabad but given the stellar performances of overseas stars David Warner, Jonny Bairstow, Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan, he couldn’t find a way back into the XI. So for nearly a month, Shakib – the best all-rounder in the game – was warming the bench.
With the World Cup on the horizon, Shakib made judicious use of the downtime. According to ESPNcricinfo, the left-hander undertook an intense training regime under the watchful eyes of trainer Jade Roberts and even flew in his mentor Mohammad Salahuddin to India to work on his overall game.
The end result of all that training and a major change in his diet was a Shakib six kilos lighter and hungry for success.
Even after a decade at the top, Shakib realised that to be the best at the World Cup, ‘regular’ wasn’t going to be good enough. Hits in the nets and routine rounds at the gym can only take you so far. To deliver more than you have ever before, hard yards need to be put in and once he put his mind to it in the IPL, there was no stopping Shakib.
Not only is Shakib making the most of good batting conditions in the World Cup, his left-arm spin is more than doing its job. Against the West Indies, Shakib deceived well-set Evin Lewis and Nicholas Pooran and had them caught down the ground. Had either of the two been at the crease towards the end, the Windies would have easily scored more than 350.
As Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza said: “Shakib Al Hasan has made it in this World Cup now. In every match he’s doing something that’s exceptional.”
Bangladesh are the most experienced team in this World Cup; their core of Shakib, Mashrafe, Tamim Iqbal and Mushfiqur Rahim played the 2007 World Cup. They have only had one bad game so far – against England where they conceded 386. In a razor-sharp Shakib, they have the ultimate weapon to bring all that experience together to progress in England. They have two wins and two defeats from five games. Afghanistan and Pakistan can be beaten. One win against Australia – their next opponents- or India and the Tigers will be in the hunt.
Sarfaraz Ahmed’s team were thrashed by 89 run at Old Trafford on Sunday. Indian opener Rohit Sharma smashed 140 as the men in blue amassed 336-5. Pakistan could only manage 212-6 in reply to their revised target of 302 in 40 overs.
Waqar said Pakistan were no match for an Indian side that rely on team work and not individual efforts.
“In the last few years, there’s been a massive difference India and Pakistan – and again it showed at Old Trafford on Sunday,” Waqar wad quoted as saying by AFP.
“Pakistan are still trying to rely on talent alone, while with India it’s all about teamwork. They all know their roles, and they execute them superbly.
“We had good sides in the 1990s, but now I think this India team intimidates Pakistan.”
KL Rahul and captain Virat Kohli chipped in with fifties as India cashed in after seeing off the initial spell of left-arm pacer Mohammad Amir. The rest of the bowling rarely troubled Indian batsmen.
“India have very classy batsmen, let’s not forget. They wait for the bad ball, and didn’t have to do much against the Pakistan attack given the inconsistency in the length.
“Mohammad Amir was the only one who created a bit of pressure by bowling a good length,” the former fast bowler said.