Pace is ace as South Africa blow away Afghanistan

South Africa's Pacers vs Afghanistan
South Africa’s Pacers vs Afghanistan (PC: Proteas Men/X)

No, don’t call South Africa chokers again. On Thursday morning, India time, even as bleary-eyed cricket fans were trying to focus on their TV sets, the Proteas’ fast bowlers were on fire. To bowl out Afghanistan, the tournament’s surprise packages, for 56 in 11.5 overs was a massive achievement, as Marco Jansen, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje showed how lethal they could be in helpful conditions at the Brian Lara Stadium in Tarouba, Trinidad. At the end of a virtual no-contest, South Africa hammered Afghanistan by nine wickets to enter the ICC T20 World Cup final, where they await the winners of the second semi-final between India and England. 

To be sure, the hype over Afghanistan through this World Cup has been sky high. They deserved to be celebrated, no doubting that. But then, when you are up against a professional side like the Proteas, emotions and feelings alone cannot win you a match. The chaotic scheduling in this World Cup ensured that Afghanistan reached the semi-final venue late, after having to take chartered flights. Whether that lack of preparation time played a part in this collapse is open to debate.  

But that alone was no reason for a catastrophic performance against a pace attack which did everything right. Big stage, big match and the big guns took up the challenge. Jansen, Rabada, Nortje and, later, Tabraiz Shamsi, the left-arm wrist-spinner, came out smoking. It was like South Africa were on a massive mission at this World Cup. For too long, they have suffered bulk criticism. A day had to come where they could hammer their rivals in a semi-final, on a stage as big as this World Cup in the West Indies.

South Africa did not talk too much before the match, a sign of professionalism. What they did, instead, in the semi-final was bowl with venom. This is not the first time one has seen South Africa’s pacers come up with accuracy and good use of the white ball’s seam. Here, they landed it in a way the batters were bamboozled.

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South Africa celebrating after a wicket vs Afghanistan
South Africa celebrating after a wicket vs Afghanistan (PC: Proteas Men/X)

Indeed, the Afghan side had peaked repeatedly in this World Cup. Batting first after winning meant a lot depended on their openers, Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Ibrahim Zadran. Once both were devoured, by Jansen and Rabada respectively, for 0 and 2, it was the best start South Africa could have asked for.

From there on, the Proteas’ might was in full view. Without sounding cruel, the Afghan batters’ procession back from the 22-yard strip was like a mourning ceremony. All the hype, the build-up and the emotion vanished into thin air. The hunters had been hunted, and if they were not prepared for the ferocity of South Africa’s pace battery, you cannot blame them.

South Africa have played top-class international cricket for years, across formats, and still struggled in the most crucial matches. Years of being subjected to pure vitriol and smirk would have intensified their preparations. If any lesson was to be learned from the way the Afghans collapsed, it was how hard and how well the Proteas had mentally prepared themselves to be professional, clinical and purposeful.

Before the match, Afghan skipper Rashid Khan had talked of how their middle order was suspect. It may be tempting to write bad things about Afghanistan, as they failed. Don’t do that, please. They punched above their weight, and for a nation battling massive crisis — politically and economically – cricket has been a balm. At a time when Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were thrown out early from the World Cup, the spirit of Afghanistan was alive and kicking. One bad loss does not mean they are finished. This tough loss will ensure that the team from Afghanistan keeps preparing hard.

As Ajay Jadeja, former mentor for this Afghanistan team, said recently: “They have been around for such a short while, give them time.”

Also Read: South Africa show pace and poise to destroy Afghanistan and enter World Cup final