In days gone by South Africa’s team list for crucial World Cup matches has read like a roll call for potential chokers. The suspicion is that South Africa have cleared their throats, however, and dramatic collapses in the biggest games is a thing of the past.
There is no debate about who the XI should be. They have named the same team in each of their five matches apart from Tuesday’s victory over India when Jacques Kallis was rested for Morne Morkel. The burly all-rounder is back.
Pakistan, by contrast, have used 15 players. But finally they know their best side. Kamran Akmal and Shahzaib are the openers which have banished a pre-tournament weakness while Abdul Razzaq’s return from obscurity has been a major fillip. There will be no place for Sohail Tanvir, star of the inaugural IPL.
The dominance of spin bowlers at Trent Bridge has been one of the talking points of the tournament. In Nottingham normally swing is on everyone’s lips. Shahid Afridi, Sajeed Ajmal and Shoaib Malik will be licking theirs. The average first-innings score in the nine matches there is 153. However, in day-night games the average is just 138. No rain is forecast.
It is difficult not to reckon that Pakistan have been slightly fortunate to reach the last four. In apparent disarray at the start of the tournament in terms of team selection and ground fielding which would shame an under-11 side, they were outclassed by England (shame) and Sri Lanka.
For those reasons punters who took our advice to back Pakistan to win the tournament at 9.20 could be justified in laying off at 5.90. After all, they come up against a South Africa side which rages against the merest hint of ill-discipline in their opponents.
However, it is also tough not to believe that South Africa are vulnerable in this contest, a view shared by Jamie Pacheco here. The 2.60 tournament favourites could implode against potentially dazzling Pakistan style. So rigid are South Africa that they could be struck dumb by a team eschewing the dossiers full of plans and tactics which they snuggle up to at night.
Pakistan’s three spinners are likely to cause them all sorts of problems on the turning wicket. India bowled 14 overs of spin against South Africa on Tuesday, conceding just 5.3 per over.
Afridi, Ajmal and Malik will be confident of something similar – for a period they tailored a straight jacket for Sri Lanka at Lord’s – providing Umar Gul, the top wicket-taker in the tournament, with an opportunity for easy wickets late on.
Of course we should not forget that South Africa are rightful jollies. They are unbeaten and appear to have the best balance of any side. Their batsmen are flexible while their pace attack, not forgetting the excellent spin duo of Johan Botha and Roelof van der Merwe, could dismantle Pakistan’s often fragile line-up.
But they are too short at 1.62 with spin certain to be key. Pakistan, at 2.60, look a fantastic back and lay prospect at the least. Timing will be crucial – as will the toss with four of South Africa’s five wins coming batting first while Pakistan have twice lost chasing – so set your alarm for when Younis Khan deploys his army of twirlers.
A cast of just seven for this market show. AB de Villiers, Graeme Smith, Kallis and Herschelle Gibbs are the men to have top scored for South Africa while Akmal and Younis have two honours apiece to their name with Shahzaib making up the numbers.
De Villiers struck 63 on this ground against India so has form, as does Kallis, whose half-century against England, was a thing of brutal beauty.
Pakistan have not played at Trent Bridge yet but if it is a slow turner, it will suit their middle order rather than the hitters up top. Younis’ consistency is comforting but the surprise contender could be Razzaq, who struck 75 from 72 balls against England on the ground in a 2006 ODI.
Don’t fall for the hype surrounding Afridi’s batting. A modicum of form shown against Ireland does not mean he is ‘back’ as a batsman. It is doubtful whether he ever really arrived as a willowman of craft or discipline – two essentials to score runs in whatever fashion at this level. Check his price to score 25 runs. It could be worth laying prices up to 3.00.
Ed Hawkins says: back Pakistan at 2.60 with a view to lay
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BIOGRAPHY: N’Golo Kante