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South Africa’s tactical blunders against India cost them in ICC World T20 2014 semi-final

By the time Dale Steyn (centre) was brought back into the attack in the 15th over, India had already got into a relatively comfortable situation © AFP
By the time Dale Steyn (centre) was brought back into the attack in the 15th over, India had already got into a relatively comfortable situation © AFP

Yet another of South Africa’s campaigns in an ICC tournament ended in the knock-out stage. Abhishek Mukherjee tries to find out where things went wrong for South Africa.

Following their home debacle against Australia, few people had really expected South Africa to win the ICC World T20 2014, given the fact that it was played in Bangladesh. But then, few people had given them a chance in the inaugural ICC KnockOut Trophy in 1998 (now the Champions Trophy) in the same country, and they had clicked.

When they lost their first match of the tournament against Sri Lanka by a mere three runs, it seemed that the old ghosts were back to torment them: as usual, they cannot handle pressure — was the verdict. They turned things around afterwards: a fiery spell from Dale Steyn helped snatch a two-run victory from New Zealand; a surprisingly rampant Netherlands was stopped by Imran Tahir, resulting in a six-run win; and England was dished out a three-run defeat as well.

It seemed that South Africa had found a way around the usual hurdles.

But then, they came up to an all-conquering behemoth called Virat Kohli: clinical in approach, jaw-dropping in strokeplay, and disdainful in attitude, he helped India pull off what turned out to be a rather easy win in the semi-final at Mirpur: the first South African win in a knockout match world-tournament (World Cup or ICC World T20) remained elusive.

Where did South Africa go wrong on April 4? Let us try to examine:

Not picking Aaron Phangiso

It is difficult to say whether Phangiso’s selection would have made things different, but on hindsight it seems that the selection of Beuran Hendricks was probably an error: in the previous match against England, Hendricks had gone for 50 runs off his four overs.

Phangiso is certainly no Rangana Herath or Shakib Al Hasan, but memories of his match-winning performance against New Zealand at St George’s Park last season on an unhelpful track did make the fans hopeful. He may have tested the Indian batting line-up as well, who have three right-hand batsmen at the top, and Yuvraj Singh, scheduled to bat at No 4, has never been a great player of spin.

Hendricks did a decent job, but the wickets he picked up [those of Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina] were certainly not earned.

Picking de Kock and getting him to open

The selection of Quinton de Kock had probably more to do with his form against India in December 2013 than anything else. Prior to the semi-final, he had scored 56 runs at 14.50 and a strike-rate of 95.1. The numbers do not make you confident, but the team management stuck to the youngster.

The youngster’s poor form continued: de Kock almost inside-edged the third ball to the stumps and fell the next ball.

Holding de Villiers back

AB de Villiers could have done a Kohli on April 4: he had decimated England the previous day with a 28-ball 69; instead, he found himself coming out with a shade over six overs left. Given his impeccable technique against spinners, Faf du Plessis was probably the right man to walk out at No 3, but holding de Villiers back till late in the innings was hardly logical.

One may have argued that MS Dhoni had Ravichandran Ashwin ready the moment de Villiers would come out to bat: “Ravichandran Ashwin was brilliant. We kept him back for AB de Villiers. We didn’t want to give him pace,” said Dhoni in the post-match presentation.

Playing according to the opposition’s strategy is not a bad thing to do — but creating your strategy and make the opposition respond to it is probably the better idea. De Villiers may have played out Ashwin’s initial overs, then got his eye in and launched a furious onslaught to take the score past the 200-run mark. Had he walked out in the sixth over at the fall of Hashim Amla’s wicket, it was a possible option.

Opening the bowling with JP Duminy and Albie Morkel

With two strokeplayers at the top, it was a good idea to get two slow bowlers to deliver the goods for you: the problem was in the fact that JP Duminy’s economy rate in T20Is was 7.58 before the match, and Albie Morkel’s, 8.19. An experiment with Duminy was still acceptable, but after he conceded 14 in the first over getting Morkel on was logic-defying.

Morkel ended up conceding nine more; and India were away.

Holding Steyn back

With India on 80 for two after 10 overs (28 had come off the last five) and a new batsman [Yuvraj] at the crease, one would probably have expected Steyn to be brought back. Instead, du Plessis brought back Duminy, playing into Kohli’s hands; he was hit for a six first ball by Kohli and the pressure was lifted.

By the time Steyn was brought back in the 15th over, Yuvraj had got his eye in.

Changing Steyn’s ends

With Tahir picking up Yuvraj, India required 40 from the last four overs. The match was certain to go for a close finish; it seemed obvious that Steyn should be given as much bowling as possible (the general thumb-rule is, barring exceptional circumstances, the best bowler should always get the penultimate over; otherwise the match may have been decided before the final over starts).

Instead, du Plessis summoned Wayne Parnell, and Raina, albeit aided by some fortunate edges, put South Africa out of the match in that single over.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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