South Africa and Australia have always been great World Cup rivals but they meet for just the second time in the T20 showpiece on Saturday in what has been a massively contrasting year for the two teams.
While the Proteas have won nine of their last 10 matches and were impressive in winning their warm-up games against Afghanistan and Pakistan, Australia have lost eight of their previous 10 games and are on a losing streak in their last four series. Their warm-up displays were also mixed, with a narrow win over New Zealand followed by a thrashing at the hands of India.
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But Proteas captain Temba Bavuma said on Friday that he expects the toughest of tests for his side in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
“Australia are a very competitive side and I’m sure they won’t be deterred by their past results,” Bavuma said. “They will take learnings from them and they have good resources in terms of players.
“Obviously their bowling is strong and they’ll look to strike up front and get into our middle-order. We’ll have to play the powerplay well and not allow their slow bowlers into our middle-order.
“Their batting is quite top-heavy with Warner, Finch and Smith. So we’ll want to put their middle-order under pressure and the earlier we get them in, the more we can do that.
“But both teams are under pressure. We have come under heavy attack from our fans and media the last while and we understand how unforgiving the demand for excellence is from us,” Bavuma said.
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While South Africa have clearly thrown off their old reliance on pace bowlers, Bavuma said they were still deciding whether to play all three frontline spinners in Tabraiz Shamsi, Keshav Maharaj and Bjorn Fortuin, or just two.
Against a strong bowling side like Australia and pacemen who have terrorised the Proteas before in Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, it would be risky to go in with just six batsmen.
“We are considering both options of going in with three spinners or a longer batting line-up,” Bavuma confirmed. “If we do go the slower bowlers route then we do have the guys at our disposal, and the same if we go the extra batsman route.”
Australia are the old foe and they walloped the Proteas by eight wickets with 14 balls to spare in their previous T20 World Cup meeting, in 2012 in Colombo. They also won their last series, triumphing 2-1 in 2020 in South Africa as they twice bowled them out for less than a hundred.
“There’s no bigger motivation than playing against Australia, games against them are always full of fire and we don’t expect anything less this time,” Bavuma said.
“It’s obviously a big game and we want to start well, get some momentum going. It’s always important to throw the first punch early on and then ride that momentum.
“There isn’t really time in this tournament to be behind the eight-ball, so we really want to hit the ground running and play our best cricket tomorrow (Saturday).”