South Africa, a complete team with a flexible approach

It’s easier to find pros in a team on a winning spree, and South Africa have plenty of positives in their spotless campaign in the T20 World Cup 2024.
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The calls from Aiden Markram have been tactically sound, and the calculative gamble has paid off.

It’s easier to find pros in a team on a winning spree, and South Africa have plenty of positives in their spotless campaign in the T20 World Cup 2024. They reached the final of an ICC tournament for the first-ever time and haven’t lost any game in the series. The opposition pushed and challenged them at various points, but the Proteas have finally learned to stay calm in adversity, and the rub of the green has been their way.

In big tournaments like this, luck evens out, and what eventually matters is how wise the tactics are and their implementation in the middle. South Africa have been prudent in that aspect from the start. The calls from Aiden Markram have been tactically sound, and the calculative gamble has paid off.

Adapting to varied batting conditions

To start with the batting department, South Africa, like India, played their first three fixtures on unplayable New York tracks. Still, they were smarter than their opponents and acclimatised to the conditions better. Below is a comparison of their batting numbers with opponents in each match.

South Africa’s batters scored quicker than their opponents in all matches, and only once (vs Nepal), their balls-per-boundary ratio was higher than the opposition; that too marginally. While South Africa’s strike rate (84.68) in the New York leg is not top-ranked, it’s worth noting they played against teams like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, who have a formidable spin attack. Sri Lanka, especially, gave nothing to the South African batters, but they still managed to scrape a win.

Even in the West Indies phase, the surfaces offered to South Africa weren’t ideal for T20 all the time, but South Africa managed to ace the conditions. For instance, they posted above-par totals against the United States and England, for whom the tracks either got harder to bat or the target was too big to chase. Sure, their batters could have done better in a few games, but they were more than decent for most part of their batting turn.

The Quinton de Kock factor

Quinton de Kock has been South Africa’s leading run-scorer this tournament, with 204 runs at an average of 25.50 and a strike rate of 143.66 in eight outings. He also has two fifties. The start wasn’t as fluent for him; he struggled to get going in the US phase.

However, once the tracks got slightly better for batting, Quinton proved his worth and played match-winning knocks. He provided rapid starts, exploiting the powerplay overs to score as many runs as possible before the tracks slowed down. Among the batters to face at least 50 balls, Quinton has the third-best strike rate (158.42) in the powerplay despite playing three matches in New York.

His knocks proved vital against the United States and England, where he went berserk during the field restrictions. Even though other batters found it arduous, Quinton’s early blitz took them to above-par totals. Jos Buttler admitted the impact of his knock, labelling it as the difference in the game.

“Powerplay (on where England lost the game). Quinton came in with a lot of intent, and we couldn't quite match that. We pulled it back and were happy to chase that target, but his innings was the difference.”

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Fiery pace attack

If batting in New York was a disadvantage, South Africa’s pacers ensured they did the heavy lifting and defended or restricted the opposition to low totals. Even on decent batting decks, South Africa’s speedsters stepped up and did the damage. That allowed South Africa to get away with batting hiccups at a few points.

South Africa pacers have the second-most wickets (37) at a fantastic average of 16 and a strike rate of 16.89 in the T20 World Cup 2024. They have taken the second-highest dismissals (14) in the powerplay, conceding only 5.29 runs per over, again the second-best. New Zealand top the list in the economy segment, but that has to do with their fixtures against lower-ranked sides.

South Africa speedsters have the most wickets (13) in the middle overs at 16.15 balls apiece. Despite playing against top-quality sides in the Super Eight phase, their pacers have only conceded 6.11 runs per over, the second-best among the eight teams to qualify for this phase.

In the final five overs, the Proteas pacers have grabbed 14 wickets at a 12.07 strike rate. Their economy rate (6.57) is the second-best among Super Eight teams in death overs. Fortunately, Anrich Nortje picked himself up at the right time, while other pacers also hit the straps to form a formidable pace attack.

Backing from the spin department

If South Africa's pacers were ruthless, their spinners ensured the pressure remained intact from the other end. The spinners were always going to be decisive in this tournament, and SA tweakers exploited conditions precisely. South African spinners have taken the second-most wickets (22), and their average (13.95) and strike rate (12.77) are the best among all 20 teams in the competition.

Individually, Shamsi holds the fourth position among spinners with leading wicket-takers, snaring 11 wickets at an average of 9.27 and 7.54 strike rate in only four innings. Among spinners bowling at least five overs, no other has a better average and strike rate than Shamsi. He has won two Player of the Match awards from four outings.

Meanwhile, Keshav Maharaj has also done his job silently. With nine wickets, Maharaj sits in the fifth position, averaging 16.88 and taking a wicket every 16.66 deliveries. Further, he has only conceded 6.08 runs per over, building pressure for batters to attack other bowlers, which has led to wickets.

Aiden Markram has done the remaining job by bowling immaculate lines and lengths. He has scalped two wickets and has an economy rate of 6.62 only. The trio has been a perfect support system to the high-flying pacers and made a bowling attack to reckon with.

Also Read: Isn't it time to move on from Shivam Dube?

Flexible with personnel

From the looks of it, South Africa have only used 12 players, but they have still been flexible with their personnel usage. While ten players have been settled, the Proteas have shuffled Ottneil Baartman and Tabraiz Shamsi according to the conditions. The playing surface has been contrasting in the US and the West Indies, and South Africa have been prudent with their swap.

Throughout the New York leg, where pacers had seam movement offered and averaged 15.71, Baartman played and wreaked havoc. Meanwhile, Shamsi has played in St Vincent, Tarouba, and Antigua, where spinners have averaged second-best (14.87), third-best (15.06), and fifth-best (23.80), respectively in this T20 World Cup. Now Baartman might replace him again in the final in Barbados, where pacers have averaged (20.22) better than spinners (26.40) this T20 World Cup.

Aiden Markram’s captaincy

It’s easier to pinpoint the decisions when things go in favour, and this might look like another captaincy hype. But Aiden Markram has genuinely been a proactive captain throughout this T20 World Cup. Take his calls against Bangladesh, for instance.

Markram loaded overs of his frontline pacers over Keshav Maharaj, trying to end the game even before it reached the last over. Eventually, Maharaj got 11 to defend and did the job. That game would have ended earlier had Markram bowled Maharaj earlier, for spinners weren’t even half as effective as pacers.

Similarly, Markram brought himself into the attack against two West Indies’ LHBs and later bowled Keshav Maharaj against an RHB Roston Chase in the powerplay. Overall, South Africa used four overs of spin during the field restrictions. Markram could have lined up pacers to exploit anything available with the new ball under lights, given how threatening they have been in this phase.

Markram used Maharaj for a solitary over against Afghanistan in the semifinal but found the importance of extracting that zip off the deck and returned to attack with pacers. With two LHBs, the possibility of persisting with Maharaj was high. However, Markram’s game sense was again sound, eventually making a massive difference.

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