The time to be in front, every sportsman knows, is at the end. But that knowledge is unlikely to unduly trouble South Africa’s white ball cricket captain, Temba Bavuma.
At the end of Tuesday’s third T20I between his troops and Kieron Pollard’s West Indies, the Proteas had their noses in front, both in the day’s match—by one run—and in the series. Given that they had been blown out of the water in Saturday’s first game at the Grenada National Stadium, it must be a very good feeling to be leading 2-1 after Game Three in the five-match series.
It seems fair to say that whoever scripted this series either has precious little imagination or has a pretty good sense of what constitutes drama.
In all three games so far, Pollard has won the toss and asked the opposition to take first strike. Having posted modest scores of 160, 166 and 167 in successive innings after better than solid Powerplay starts, the South Africans have lost the first game by 8 wickets and won the next two by 16 runs and 1 run respectively.
Immediately after Saturday’s whipping, Bavuma announced his intention to have a group powwow about strategy and tactics. But moving David Miller up to number four in the order hardly made a difference to Sunday’s eventual successful outcome.
On Tuesday, Aidan Markram replaced Heinrick Klaasen and batted at number 4. He added 43 for the third wicket with the in-form Quinton de Kock, who got a seventh T20I half-century to go with the 141*, 96, 0, 37 and 26 he has so far scored on this tour.
And Markram’s two overs cost 25 runs, only four more than Reeza Hendricks’ solitary over on Saturday.
But listening to the West Indies captain discuss the series so far, one gets the sense that his team’s back-to-back defeats had less to do with what Bavuma’s men had done than with what his own men have not done. There was not the slightest suggestion that the WI’s win on Saturday might have been the aberration.
In fact, Pollard’s comments after Sunday’s first defeat seemed to include encouragement to the batsmen to play their natural (preferably attacking) game.
No fewer than five batsmen had perished going for six glory on Sunday. And on Tuesday, with Andre Fletcher (35 off 36 balls on Sunday) and Chris Gayle (8 off 6 balls) making way for big-hitting Lendl Simmons and Shimron Hetmyer, the push appeared to be for more of the same. Obliging, three batsmen again surrendered their wickets in similar fashion on Tuesday.
After that game, Pollard revealed to the post-match interviewer that: “At some point in time, we hope to get it right… We just have to find a way.”
It would have been useful for the interviewer to inquire just what was the ‘it’. In Saturday’s win, despite a dot ball tally of 38, the WI batsmen had produced 15 sixes and nine fours and got to their target with five overs to spare.
In Games Two and Three combined, they managed to reach the boundary only 16 times and to clear it only 18 times. And on Tuesday only, the dot ball tally was up to 48,
The Proteas, by way of comparison, hit only five sixes in Saturday’s losing effort when they faced 37 dot balls. In Sunday’s and Tuesday’s victories combined, they smashed 24 fours with only eight sixes. Their dot ball went up by just one to 38 on each of the second and third match days.
Crucially, Tuesday’s 48 tally included two in the final over when, with Fabian Allen and Dwayne Bravo in partnership at the crease, Allen allowed Kagiso Rabada’s yorkers to get past bat and pads on no fewer than three occasions.
And if any was needed, Tuesday’s 1-run result represents cruel proof of just what a difference a dot ball or two can make.
It may well be that Pollard’s ‘point in time’ does not have to be before Game Five ends on Saturday. More and more, he is giving the impression that what ultimately matters is the final destination, the World Cup in India in October, and not the itinerary for getting there, these five games vs South Africa and the six which follow them against Australia and Pakistan in July and August.
Interested observers are likely to get a clearer sense of what is the West Indian plan if Bavuma manages not to call wrong for a sixth consecutive time on Thursday.
And invites the West Indians to make the front-running.
Game Three match summary
Toss: West Indies
South Africa: 167 for 8 (Q de Kock 72, R van der Dussen 32, Obed McCoy 4/22, D J Bravo 3/25
WI: 166 for 7 (E Lewis, 27, N Pooran 27, A Russell 25, T Shamsi 2/13, A Nortje 2/29)
Man-of-the-Match: Tabraiz Shamsi
Result: South Africa won by 1 run.
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