South Africa’s torpid start to the World Cup had seemed an insupportable burden for captain Faf du Plessis but on Saturday night in Cardiff he admitted that he felt like someone who had had a weight removed from his shoulders following the nine-wicket triumph over Afghanistan, the Proteas’ first win of the tournament.
Not only does it keep their slim hopes of making the semi-finals alive, it has also moved them up to seventh on the log and given them some crucial momentum heading into a massive week with decisive matches against New Zealand and Pakistan.
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“I’m very relieved and I feel lighter. Our cricket today was much, much better, you could see a big difference in terms of higher intensity, which will make us more competitive. We’ve showed glimpses before today, but we’ve mostly played inconsistent, bad cricket, so we needed to be solid today, it was an opportunity to put a peg in the ground. We were very clinical.
“There are two big games coming up for us next week but if we play like we did today then things can only go better. The first three games were not like today, forget about the opposition, it’s things we can control like just having energy in the field, with the ball, with the bat. There was a very good buzz today and it’s a bit of a weight off our shoulders but we know we still have to win every game,” Du Plessis said after the win.
While there has been criticism of Hashim Amla (41* off 83) and Quinton de Kock (68 off 72) for taking nearly 23 overs for their first-wicket stand of 104, South Africa only reaching a target of 127 in the 29th over, Du Plessis said his own tendency was to look at the bigger picture and be happy two key batsmen have spent significant time in the middle.
“I thought we were very clinical in chasing a small target, the first 10 overs were tricky with the ball nipping around. So at the start we needed a good foundation and Quinny batted really well, he was able to transfer the pressure and took on the bowlers. When we were 60 or so runs out, the coach and I felt it was a good opportunity to send in Andile Phehlukwayo (17* off 17) because he doesn’t take 5-10 balls to get in.
“But it was the nature of the start that gave us that freedom. Sure, in a perfect world you would have wanted Hashim to score 40 off 40-50 balls, but specifically with him it’s about the bigger picture. For him to get runs and finish off the game will give him confidence and we really need him for the next four games. Ideally we would have chased the runs a bit quicker, but I’m glad they had some time in the middle,” Du Plessis said.
However, if South Africa had won the game in 20 overs, the boost in their nett run-rate would have taken into positive territory – +0.04 as compared to the -0.208 they currently have.