Shamsi: ‘We’ve been put under pressure every game and stood up to it’

South Africa
Although South Africa topped Group D and are yet to lose a match in the tournament, their last two victories have come off the final ball and their match against Netherlands was decided in the penultimate over. “It’s a little bit closer than we’ve needed it to be,” Shamsi said.
All four of their games have been low-scoring, starting with their opener against Sri Lanka, who they bowled out for 77. Then, South Africa chased 104 against Netherlands, having recovered from 12 for 4 to do it, and defended 113 against Bangladesh and 115 against Nepal. The first three totals could be somewhat explained by seamer-friendly conditions in New York, which was characterised by inconsistent bounce but the score in St Vincent was the result of what seemed like a misreading of conditions, which were more suited to spin. Captain Aiden Markram summed it up as them being “nowhere near our best and just lacked a bit of intensity and conviction in our game plans.”

While he did not isolate the top three, their form remains a concern. Between them, Quinton de Kock, Reeza Hendricks and Markram have scored 129 runs from 12 trips to the crease, at an average of 10.75. Only Uganda, Papua New Guinea and Ireland’s top three have fared worse. After being put in to bat against Nepal, their old Achilles’ heel against spin seemed to re-emerge as all seven of the wickets that fell were to Dipendra Singh Airee’s offspin and Khushal Bhurtel’s legspin.

There may also have been reflection of an element of facing the unknown in the way South Africa performed against Nepal. This was the first time South Africa and Nepal have met in an international match and Markram conceded that Nepal, “put us under a lot of pressure,” as South Africa also navigated between playing morning games in the USA and a night match in St Vincent. “It has been a bit different because we spent the whole day almost doing nothing and there [in New York], we’d be playing first thing in the morning,” he said. “Moving forward some things may change. It’s one of the big challenges of cricket, being open minded and adapting.”

For Shamsi, the key to playing in the Caribbean is recognising that there will be a need to shift away from reliance on pace to spin. “Our fast bowlers did a great job in New York but our slower bowlers will have to take up the mantle now,” he said.

South Africa came prepared for that, and included three specialist spinners in their 15-player squad. So far, they have only fielded one of them per game, with Keshav Maharaj playing in New York and Shamsi in St Vincent, but Markram conceded they both should have played against Nepal. Left-arm spinner Bjorn Fortuin has yet to come into the conversation but with a reputation for taking wickets with the new ball, he may also feature in the Super Eight. South Africa were the first team to qualify for that round and Markam is hopeful they can “put a more complete game of cricket together now that we move forward to the business end of the competition.”

Ultimately, some may be of the view that may not be what it takes for South Africa to win their first World Cup. Historically – and often despite strong performances in the group stages – South Africa have crumbled in crunch moments and lost games that they seemed on course to win. Now, with three close results, they’ve shown an ability to hold their nerve. “We’ve been put under pressure in every single game and we have stood up to it,” Shamsi said.

Importantly, they also found different match-winners. Against Netherlands, David Miller’s 51-ball 59 took them over line, against Bangladesh, Keshav Maharaj’s 3 for 27 did the trick and against Nepal, Shamsi’s 4 for 19 was vital to their victory. Throughout Ottneil Baartman’s performances have been exemplary and added variation to an attack that has sometimes been too one-dimensional.

The top order issues aside, South Africa seem to be ticking along well or as Shamsi said: “When this team is rolling, everybody knows their roles.”

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