Time to get down to business
On arrival in Sri Lanka, the South African cricket side would have had an idea of what to expect over here because just about all of them have toured this part of the world before. However, none would have expected the wonderful and welcome surprise of the green grass on a hard pitch in Hambantota. While they used those conditions to their advantage and to full effect, I wonder if the first week has achieved anything in terms of readying the Proteas for the Super Eights which they will play in Colombo on a rather different Premadasa Stadium square.
To say that South Africa was untested in the group stage would be accurate and does not take away from the fantastic job that they did to dispatch their opponents and advance untroubled to the next phase of the tournament.
In times past it was great to watch the likes of Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini operating on pitches that bounced and had pace in them but not a single South African would have expected the quick men to hold sway on the sub-continent. It was wonderful to watch Steyn, Morkel and Kallis sending rockets through to the gloves of AB de Villiers behind the stumps.
With six days between their match against Sri Lanka in the group phase and their next encounter, against Pakistan on Friday, the Proteas took a two-day ‘holiday’ to a resort away from Colombo and as far away from the cricket as they could get so as to freshen up the minds and also avoid cabin fever in Colombo. While some may think that’s not clever, there needs to be consideration that they came from a long tour of England straight into this tournament. The hope will be that the little break has recharged the minds and got everybody to refocus for the business end of the tournament. They have to start again.
Whilst the fast bowlers will continue to have some say in how things go for South Africa, I believe that the bowling attack is very well balanced and can thrive in conditions that favour spin too. In my mind it is going to be about how the batsmen handle having to adjust to the conditions in Colombo. Should the pitches take more turn, it becomes a typically sub-continental trip which means that things suit teams from this region.
South Africa are in a group along with two subcontinent teams in India and Pakistan. These two sides will be hoping that the pitches turn a great deal as it suits them better and reduces the gap between South Africa’s pace attack and theirs.
In recent times, playing spin well has not been a problem for the South African team but it will be a question of whether they can play it better than the likes of Pakistan and India, as well as whether the Proteas spinners Johan Botha and Robin Peterson can present as much trouble to batsmen and be more effective than the likes of Saeed Ajmal for Pakistan and R Ashwin for India.
Many factors make the next phase of the tournament a fascinating prospect and should the Proteas get through the test of this business end, there would be nothing stopping them from going all the way. It really will be interesting to see how the pitches play and also whether the weather will hold out and not have too much of a say on which way matches go.
I can divulge that just at the moment, the weather forecast is not at all encouraging for the rest of the week. By that I mean it seems things will be no different from what has happened in the last three or four days: rain each evening. I am hoping it clears up, as are many of you, I'm sure.
Perhaps the fact that three of the Proteas’ last four games have been curtailed (9 overs and 11 overs per side in England, then a full match against Zimbabwe and a 7-over hit-out against Sri Lanka) puts them at an advantage. I am sure though that they’d prefer full matches in the Super Eights.