Imran Tahir is likely to be a key player for South Africa at the World T20 © Getty Images
Ah, Australia. Just the team South Africa want to see.
Never mind that the Australia Test side now holds the mace that was in South Africa’s cabinet little more than a month ago, that the Australia one-day side thrashed South Africa 4-1 the last time they met and that the T20 side beat them 2-1 on the same 2014 tour. For South Africa, there is no better yardstick to measure themselves against than the old enemy.
“It’s good to judge yourself against some of the better sides and better players,” Russell Domingo, South Africa’s coach, said. Especially if you have the upper hand.
While South Africa have won three of their last four T20 series, Australia are coming off a 3-0 home whitewash to India. While two of South Africa’s victories came in the subcontinent, the same place the World T20 will be played, the closest Australia have got to that region in the last year is in their opposition. They have not played in the subcontinent since 2014.
Which means Australia are concerned with all things spin, something South Africa know about and now consider conquered. At both ends.
Most of their batsmen, perhaps JP Duminy and David Miller excluded, are comfortable against turn and some of them – AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla – can dominate it. More importantly, though, South Africa have a genuine match-winning spinner in Imran Tahir who has shown an ability to control passages of play by taking wickets and limiting runs.
In the recent series against England, Tahir’s five wickets was the join-highest haul along with Kyle Abbott and his economy rate of 5.75 was the lowest overall. Given their recent record against quality spinners, Australia are wary.
“Imran is very experienced. He is an outstanding bowler,” Glenn Maxwell, who played with Tahir at the Delhi Daredevils, said. “He has been very successful and he played really well in the IPL last year. I think that was a big thing for him and for his confidence. I think he has been riding that since. He seems to grab the momentum back for South Africa every time he comes on.
“Our record hasn’t been great in the subcontinent, especially playing excellent spin. You’ve only to look back at our last performance [at the World T20] in 2014 in Bangladesh: Ajmal, Afridi, Narine, we struggled against.”
Even in the series against India at home, Australia were undone by spin. Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin shared nine wickets between them to finish behind Jasprit Bumrah on the wicket-takers’ list. But the Australia line-up that played in those matches is not the Australia line-up that will play in South Africa or at the World T20 and Maxwell has promised they will have more muscle.
“If you look at our batting order, it’s suited to combat that,” he said. “We’ve got excellent players of spin in our team and guys that have got international experience in India. It’s going to be key for us to have those guys perform well for us. It felt like the Indian series we were trying a lot of players. We didn’t play our main team at any stage. It’s an exciting that we can get better from that. Hopefully when we hit Durban on Friday night we can show that with our No. 1 side.”
Australia have dispensed with the likes of Travis Head and Chris Lynn for now and will rely on the experience of Aaron Finch, David Warner and Shane Watson. They have a settled on their Test wicketkeeper who was not part of the India series at all – Peter Nevill – instead of Matthew Wade or Cameron Bancroft and they have decided they can do without Shaun Marsh. Now, all they need is to find the consistency they have lacked in this format, which Maxwell thinks is because of the irregularity with which they play it.
“We play a lot of one-day cricket and you get used to your role in that team but in T20s, we’ve played quite sparingly as a team at international level,” he said. “Between the World T20 in Bangladesh and now, we’ve played only a few games in a row where you can get a roll on.”
Since that tournament, Australia have only played eight T20s and won three. South Africa have played 15 (with one abandonment) and won nine, which would explain why they are so happy to host Australia for the next ten days. But the results of this mini-series will determine how happy they will be when they head to the World T20.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Source: ESPN Crickinfo