Mohammad Shahzad felt that with the wicket good to bat on and the ball coming on nicely, Steyn’s pace would have made him easy to face © Getty Images
Mohammad Shahzad, the opening batsman, whose belligerent 19-ball 44 briefly gave Afghanistan hope of a shock victory over South Africa in Mumbai, believes his side would have come even closer to their first win of the Super 10s had Dale Steyn not been dropped for tactical reasons. And Faf du Plessis does not disagree.
Shahzad, whose tally of 142 runs from 102 balls in last week’s qualifiers was instrumental in his team’s progression to the main draw, cracked three fours and five sixes in a thrilling onslaught that was reminiscent of Jason Roy’s opening gambit against South Africa on Friday.
His innings included 22 runs off Kyle Abbott’s first over of the night, and it wasn’t until Chris Morris entered the attack with a hostile back-of-a-length approach that South Africa were able to regroup. Morris, who gave Shahzad a send-off after having him bowled in his first over, was named Man of the Match after restoring order for South Africa with figures of 4 for 27 in four overs.
“Morris bowled very well, with good line and length,” Shahzad said. “I was waiting for the full-length delivery, and I missed, he hit.”
However, when asked if he would have liked to have tested his methods against Steyn, arguably the finest fast bowler of his generation, Shahzad was as dismissive of his merits as he had been of South Africa’s opening bowlers.
“It doesn’t matter which bowler is playing because the wicket is very good, you see,” he said “I love playing Dale Steyn because Dale Steyn is not dangerous.
“Morris is very dangerous because he has height and swings the ball. Dale Steyn [has] only pace, so this wicket is good to face a pacer, the ball is coming onto the bat. So no, I am not happy that Dale Steyn is not playing.”
His answer was greeted with incredulity and a smattering of applause in the press room, where one journalist was so taken aback by his answer, he asked him to repeat the punchline.
“I said Dale Steyn is not playing and I am not happy,” Shahzad responded. His confidence was especially telling, seeing as Steyn dismissed him for 2 in their only previous match-up at a world event, at Bridgetown during Afghanistan’s World T20 debut in 2010.
“First of all, I’d like somebody’s confidence,” Faf du Plessis, the South Africa captain, said, when Shahzad’s comments were put to him. However, du Plessis did not try to deny that Steyn’s skiddy methods had been deemed unsuitable for the task of beating an Associate nation.
“We played here the other night, and the thinking behind the wicket was that for seamers who skid on, especially in the first six overs, there is not much swing. And [Dale] goes down as quite a skiddy bowler. A wicket like this wouldn’t suit him as much.
“It’s not the Mumbai wicket where there is a bit of pace and bounce, it just skids through. We wanted to bring in a guy like David Wiese that bowls a bit of variation. The wicket looked a bit brown as well, so we thought pace off the ball would help. Wiese also strengthens our batting unit more. So yeah, it was the right decision for us as a team.”
The tactical switch raises questions about Steyn’s suitability to lead the line for the rest of South Africa’s campaign, albeit they next play West Indies and Sri Lanka in Nagpur where the conditions will be fundamentally different.
Steyn has endured an injury-plagued six months, including a groin strain that curtailed his Test tour of India and a shoulder injury that limited him to a solitary appearance on England’s tour of South Africa. He returned to action in the recent T20 series against Australia, but was belted out of the attack by Roy on Friday night, conceding 23 runs in his first over as England chased down a tournament-record 230.
“He bowled really well in the two games we have had against Australia,” du Plessis said. In the warm-up games, he bowled well. For us, we are a team that will make selections on the pitches that we play on, so, obviously, we move now away from this and go play on the other wickets that the guys have been playing on.
“The thinking will change again. You have to, as a team, be able to adapt to the conditions. Our next game is in Nagpur and that wicket has been turning quite a bit, so we will have to make those decisions after we get there.”
There is, however, a general concern over the inability of South Africa’s seamers to stick to their plans in recent matches, and du Plessis expressed his frustration after Afghanistan had been allowed to post 172 in a spirited run-chase.
”It’s an execution thing,” he said. “If the plan is to go yorker, land a yorker or miss it marginally. But we were missing by quite a big length. You have to get your execution a little bit closer to the mark. We have just missed a little bit on that.
“Chris Morris bowled very aggressively, bowled with a great intensity and that’s what we need to take. We are going to a different ground now, where things will be completely different. Yes, we want to get better, but it’s going to be a completely mental and technical shift from our skill sets now, going into the rest of the tournament. So we’ll make those changes.”
Shahzad, meanwhile, has turned his sights to Afghanistan’s next opponents – England, whom they face in Delhi on Wednesday.
“It is a good wicket for batting, but, unfortunately, we threw the wickets away too much in the first seven overs, that’s why we lost. But we will try to play good cricket again, against England and West Indies. We know if we beat England, insh’allah, we can beat any team.”
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo