South Africa is increasingly becoming a team with an edge of unpredictability about them.
The bonanza of the Super 8s weekend promised to save the best for Sunday. It is hard to imagine how many people were actually glued to their television sets to watch the Bangladesh game against South Africa. Those who did not missed out on a professional workout taught in reverse that has sent the teams in a tailspin!
The focus of the weekend was supposed to concentrate only on the Australia-England clash. Instead, the eyes widened even before the Sunday sun had arisen. The clash may have been far from anticipated but it left more than one team in a perplexing dilemma of their own. Depending on how one sees it, some teams have been thrown a lifeline by the result going Bangladeshs way while others will have to stretch their muscles more than they anticipated to get into the semi finals of this edition of the World Cup.
The South Africans were obviously packing up their bags to move from Guyana, having tired of the Providence Stadium. Bangladesh on the contrary faced pressure from their coach Dav Whatmore not to leave the Super 8s at the bottom of the eight team rung. The game against Ireland will in time perhaps ensure that. But Bangladesh was not going to hang around to find out.
South Africa may have succeeded in eluding the chokers tag. But the team is increasingly becoming one with an edge of unpredictability about them. That may sound ironical at a time when other esteemed cricket experts believe it is the contrary. But on their day, South Africa looks self-sufficient and the lack of a genuine spinner seems a negligible factor. It is when the likes of Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini fail to fire or look flat that the criticism becomes loud again that the South African attack is one paced. South Africa has shown before that the team can win even with the obvious weaknesses.
What separated the two teams yesterday was the body language. Where the tagged number one team looked out of place on the cricket field, Bangladesh came packed with a punch. Like them or hate them, most cricket aficionados and experts express that there is an electrifying presence to the South Africans in the field. But rather than a rousing performance, the efforts in the field threatened to let the viewer snooze into boredom. It allowed Bangladesh to capitalize.
The inexplicable lethargy, especially when the team expressed the desire to want to finish things in a flourish, resulted in Bangladesh getting off the hook at eighty-four for four. Andre Nel, who filled in for Andrew Hall, appeared the only one on fire and his five wicket haul was the only highlight of the match that indicated South Africas efforts. It would be unfair to take anything away from Mohammad Ashrafuls eighty-seven or the seventy-six run partnership between him and Aftab Ahmed or even the kick start by Tamim Iqbal and the late flourish by Mashrafe Mortaza.
But it was uncharacteristic for South Africa to let a curtailed mouse turn into a roaring lion, or in this case, tiger. While the consensus is that spin did South Africa in, the argument again begs contradiction. The match was lost much before Abdir Razzaq or Saqibul Hasan came onto the scene. The haphazard South African batting showed they were not prepared to chase 251 against Bangladesh. Looking for what was essentially considered a practice match, South Africa premeditated their strategy and as with things on the cricket field, were bowled by a wrong one!
But unlike other unfortunate World Cup sagas, it is not end of the road for South Africa. Yet. The first of four matches in eleven days may have ended in disaster but now three tougher matches await them. The sooner they shake off the disappointment and the general inertia, their World Cup can only regain their momentum.
The result of the previous days game may have taken the focus of this clash. But having seen what England was capable of a few months ago, it is rather a depleted view of things that Australia looks too strong even for the team that beat them thrice in a row only a couple of months back. But it is the hallmark of a super power and an average aspiring one.
The toss went in Englands favour in that they had the opportunity to put a huge target on board and set Australias a provocative target. While the Kevin Pietersen-Ian Bell partnership was on, 320 was on a horizon if one took into consideration the 30 over double the runs theory. But Pietersen lost Bell. Then he lost his own momentum, dragging his own innings to a century but dragging England down in the process.
From looking like a chase on the cards, Australia managed to pull down Glen McGraths uncharacteristically expensive economy rate. The rest had to be a cakewalk for Australias tall batting order enticed by the reduced hunt. Australia is running into the semi-finals and the rest of the battle seems to be pulling in all directions after Bangladeshs victory. Tense days these!
Bangladesh batted South Africa out of the match with unwavering authority. England though faltered badly and batted themselves into a situation of turmoil.