Bavuma improving, but will Proteas consider changing bowling unit for semi?

Proteas captain Temba Bavuma during a practice session at Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's 2023 Cricket World Cup semifinal against Australia.
Proteas captain Temba Bavuma during a practice session at Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Tuesday ahead of Thursday's 2023 Cricket World Cup semifinal against Australia.
Image: Reuters/Andrew Boyers

A forecast for rain, the captain’s hamstring, Australia — South Africa and Cricket World Cup semifinals, it’s never simple. It will be packed with drama.

From Sydney to Birmingham, St Lucia to Auckland, the Proteas have only known heartache in the semifinals of the World Cup. What will Kolkata, still heaving with sound and bursting with light after Diwali, deliver? 

The Proteas have marched fairly serenely through the World Cup’s round-robin stage, handily beating the team they will face on Thursday as part of seven wins from nine matches that saw them claim second spot behind India on the points table. That position may prove significant given the weather forecast for Kolkata later this week. 

There has been a cloud over Proteas captain Temba Bavuma too, who strained his right hamstring in Friday's win against Afghanistan and is being carefully monitored by the medical staff ahead of the semifinal. Bavuma seemed to be moving fine at the team’s training sessions under lights at Eden Gardens on Tuesday, but as head coach Rob Walter cautioned earlier in the day, the rehabilitation process is multifaceted. 

“We still need to check him out in the high-speed zones, which is all a progression, so it's from when the injury happened to the rehab that has taken place in the past 72 hours and each day brings something new to test whether he is ready and match fit,” Walter said.

Though as captain he is given leeway as he struggles for form at this tournament, Walter said being skipper will not give Bavuma extra protection if the injury does not heal sufficiently and inhibits his play.

“No-one is bigger than the team.” 

Bavuma, albeit an important member of the side, is just one player. South Africa’s future in this tournament beyond Thursday will be dependent on more than one player performing. That is something they have proved throughout the competition.

While Quinton de Kock, rightly, receives all the plaudits having made four centuries, three other batters have made hundreds too. Reeza Hendricks, who would start if Bavuma can’t play, made 85 against England, Marco Jansen has an unbeaten 75 to his name, while Andile Phehlukwayo scored the winning runs against Afghanistan, just as Keshav Maharaj did against Pakistan.

“The beauty is that different guys have stepped up at different times,” Walter said.

It’s been the same with the ball, where young tyros Gerald Coetzee and Jansen have taken most of the wickets, but they would not have managed that without pressure being created by Kagiso Rabada and Maharaj.

In fact, Coetzee’s continued knack of taking wickets will lead to the one selection conundrum for Walter and Bavuma to ponder as they pore over what will be needed to defeat Australia. Players from both teams, when inspecting the surface for Thursday’s encounter, have hinted it will take spin. It did when South Africa played India there 10 days ago.

Given how South Africa used Tabraiz Shamsi in Lucknow — which didn’t spin as much as Eden Gardens — specifically because they felt Australia’s batters struggled against the turning ball, it may be a route they wish to follow again in terms of the composition of their attack. 

That would leave a question over which seamer to drop. It can’t be Rabada and Jansen has been too penetrative in the power play, notwithstanding his poor outing against India, leaving a toss-up between Lungi Ngidi and Coetzee.

The former has taken 10 wickets, and while he hasn’t played poorly, in getting the right balance and tactics for Australia, his spot may be most under pressure, despite his excellent record against David Warner. Coetzee has also been the fastest of the South African bowlers, hitting the high 140s, and has taken 18 wickets.

It is an intriguing option and one that will come into consideration perhaps only after the brains trust have taken one more look at the pitch on Wednesday.


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