Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Passion fuels South Africa's victory path. Kagiso Rabada was at his passionate best as Miller struck two sixes to close the game.
Kagiso Rabada was at his passionate best as Miller struck two sixes to close the game.
Even the pandemic couldn't stop the South Africans from shimmering on Saturday, and not only because of Sharjah's hellish heat. They lined up for the anthems not socially distanced, as the ICC says they should and as the Sri Lankans did, but properly shoulder-to-shoulder with arms linked. Their faces, as they sang, were of utterly serious men.
The heightened passion was also evident in the field, where they threw themselves around with the commitment of commandos and nailed the stumps more often than not with their throws. And between the wickets, where their running bristled with aggression.
It was always going to be thus. At least, it was after Tuesday, when Quinton de Kock set in motion a series of unfortunate events by refusing to play against West Indies in Dubai on Tuesday because CSA's board had instructed the team to take a knee. By Thursday de Kock had relented, and on Saturday, like everyone else, he kneeled.
And the Sri Lankans remained standing – as they have been ordered to do by their board. Because, say the Lankan suits, politics and sport should not collide. This in a country where, mind, government demands the right to approve the selectors' decisions before they can be made public. At least their players know better than to defy a board directive.
At a press conference after the match, Tabraiz Shamsi was asked if the South Africans were pleased to have De Kock, their leading run-scorer in the format among current players, back in the XI. “Of course,” Shamsi said. “A player of that quality, everybody would be happy to have someone like that in their team.”
The De Kock saga lit a blaze of emotion in South Africa's team, which was burning bright by the time the flames leapt Sharjah's snug boundaries on Saturday. The Sri Lankans were smouldering themselves, and fought fire with fire. Having already lost to Australia they knew another defeat would put a potentially insurmountable obstacle on their path to the semi-finals. The same was true for the South Africans, who also were beaten by the Aussies. So Sharjah's forecast high of 34 degrees Celsius on Saturday was cool compared to the steepling temperature in 22 hearts and minds. Accordingly, the teams delivered a white-hot contest.
On the same pitch on Friday, West Indies defended 142 to beat Bangladesh. A day later, Sri Lanka, set the identical task, held that line until there were two balls left in the match, when Kagiso Rabada took the first opportunity to settle the issue by splintering a four through third off Lahiru Kumara.
The game should have been won when Wanindu Hasaranga claimed a hattrick across the 15th and 18th overs. He would have had four in four had a delivery that was headed for Rabada's stumps when it rapped his back pad not pitched outside leg stump. Thanks to Hasaranga, South Africa crashed from having seven wickets in hand to score 47 off 31 balls to needing 31 off 16 with all of their recognised batters, bar David Miller, dismissed.
Those resources proved enough, with Miller and Rabada meeting the challenge of scoring 15 off the last. Rabada edged a single of the first ball to hand the strike back to Miller – who sent consecutive sixes soaring into the stratosphere to tilt the balance back in his team's favour.
Not that Rabada was any sort of liability, having launched Dushmantha Chameera over extra cover for six in the previous over. “It's a joke in the team; he's always got the shot of the day, no matter what the situation is,” Shamsi said of the fast bowler's batting. “And, again, he pulled out a special six. There's no need for us to be surprised anymore, because he does it so often.”
They lined up for the anthems not socially distanced, as the ICC says they should.
After Miller's second blow, with the ball still on its way to the next emirate, Rabada advanced on his partner, roaring at him in a fashion that would have excited the match referee had they been opponents. That Miller was hobbling with what looked like a hamstring problem didn't stop Rabada from punching him, in celebration, harder than perhaps he should have.
Doubtless Miller didn't mind, given the circumstances. By then it had been quite a day in quite a week. Shamsi had claimed 3/17 to take his tally of T20I wickets for 2021 to 32 – more than any other bowler has captured in a calendar year in the format. Dwaine Pretorius had struck thrice in the space of seven of his deliveries to burnish his burgeoning reputation as a death bowler. His third success, achieved with a tidy catch by Anrich Nortje at deep midwicket, ended Pathum Nissanka's flinty 58-ball 72. Nissanka endured through eight partnerships.
“If anyone is going to win the award of scholar of the team, it would probably be Dwaine Pretorius,” Shamsi said. “He does so much analysis, he does so much work behind the scenes. He wants to make sure that he's well-prepared and he's come up with his gameplans with our analyst and the coaching staff.”
Even so, it would be the batters who would have to do most of the winning for South Africa. Their performance was far from perfect, glued together by Temba Bavuma's run-a-ball 46 and reliant on bit parts until Miller and Rabada took over the show with their 15-ball unbroken stand of 34. But the fact that they held their nerve to get the job done under pressure spoke of a team who have looked their erstwhile demons in the eye, and laughed.
“With this new team we've won these kinds of moments more often than we've lost them,” Shamsi said. “You can't predict which way it's going to go, but you have confidence in the guys you have in the team. The way Temba steered the batting with Aiden [in a stand of 47, the biggest of the match], and then for KG and David to come and do what they did was really good to see.”
Shamsi's feelings sizzle close to the surface at the best of times. After some of the worst of times, they seemed closer still.
“We're here to try and win a World Cup for the country,” he said. “There's a World Cup to be won. How can you not be passionate? If we didn't believe that we can win this World Cup we'd probably be sitting at home and watching on our television sets. We're here to win.”
We get it. Could he spell out how South Africa had done enough to win on Saturday?
“I'm not sure anyone could explain that.” When you're dealing with emotions, it's best not to try.