For the first time this summer, South Africa have lost the opening match of a series. Given that they went on to let all three series before this one slip following their early success, the hosts may choose to see their defeat at the Wanderers as a good omen – except that it was not just any defeat. Unlike the T20Is against England, which were competitive, close encounters, the match against Australia was as one-sided as they come. South Africa’s bowling bled, their batting appeared more broken than it has all season, and the depth of their problems is clear for all to see.
Unless they win at St George’s Park, South Africa will face the reality of going a full year since their last series triumph (against Sri Lanka in March 2019) and patience in the new regime could start wearing thin. Although Mark Boucher said he knew it would be tough and has asked for time as the team rebuilds, the results suggest they are going backwards. That’s a heavy burden for new captain, Quinton de Kock, to bear, especially since his predecessor is now back in the change-room and was doing a fair amount of mentoring (and also top-scored) on Friday night. De Kock will have to develop a thick skin if he is to keep going in the position.
He can’t do it alone, either. He needs his team-mates, especially the seniors to step up. There aren’t too many of them around these days but David Miller and Dale Steyn, in particular, have been involved through the recent white-ball matches and understand how pressing the need is for experienced players to take a lead.
Australia have none of those concerns. Bar Glenn Maxwell, they are at full strength and already look like an outfit that has peaked. Steven Smith made a triumphant return to South Africa and punished the hosts for a blunder in the field while Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins showed the advantage of combining pace and control, something South Africa seem to have forgotten. And if South Africa needed more salt rubbed in the wound it came from the opposition spinners. Ashton Agar’s hat-trick and five-for at the Wanderers was a painful reminder of one the hosts’ biggest weaknesses – facing spin – and another sign that Australia are close to the complete package.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa LLLWW
In the spotlight
Kagiso Rabada was suspended for the final Test against England and given a break for the white-ball series but returned looking out of sorts. He was the most expensive bowler at the Wanderers, where his three overs cost 45 runs. Like most of the attack, he erred on the side of too short and too wide but unlike them, he carries the expectation and the experience to know better. Rabada needs to find his rhythm quickly or risks being overtaken by some of those looking to seal to a spot for the T20 World Cup.
After last playing a T20 in 2016, Matthew Wade was recalled to the Australia team on the back of his performances in the BBL. He was one of three centurions and averaged over 50 for the Hobart Hurricanes – where he opened the batting – and continued with an aggressive in his approach after being deployed at No. 4 at the Wanderers. He survived an early chance and was ultimately foxed by a Steyn slower ball but his disgust at his dismissal and his desire to accelerate suggests there’s much more to come.
Temba Bavuma will undergo a fitness test to determine if he has fully recovered from his hamstring injury to take his place at the top of the order. If he does, Rassie van der Dussen will drop down, with Pite van Biljon and Jon-Jon Smuts vulnerable. Heinrich Klaasen remains a doubt after hurting his hip during warm-ups at the Wanderers, but South Africa may give an opportunity to Anrich Nortje, who could displace one of Lungi Ngidi or Rabada.
South Africa: (possible) 1 Quinton de Kock (capt, wk), 2 Temba Bavuma, 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 Rassie van der Dussen, 5 Jon-Jon Smuts/Heinrich Klaasen, 6 David Miller, 7 Andile Phehlukwayo, 8 Kagiso Rabada, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Tabraiz Shamsi, 11 Lungi Ngidi/Anrich Nortje
After the dominance of their performance in the opening game, Australia are likely to try to close out the series with the same XI.
Australia: (possible) 1 David Warner, 2 Aaron Finch (capt), 3 Steven Smith, 4 Matt Wade, 5 Mitchell Marsh, 6 Alex Carey (wk), 7 Ashton Agar, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Mitchell Starc, 10 Adam Zampa, 11 Kane Richardson
Pitch and conditions
Although the Port Elizabeth pitch is known as South Africa’s most spin-friendly, it is unlikely to take too much turn in a T20. After a scorcher on the Highveld, temperatures are set to be cooler on the coast, with the forecast suggesting a day in the early 20s Centigrade and low humidity.
Stats and trivia
There have been only been two previous T20 internationals played at St George’s Park, a rain-affected affair in 2007 that South Africa lost to West Indies and a full match eight years ago in which the hosts beat New Zealand.
Aaron Finch is 80 runs away from becoming the second Australian after David Warner to reach 2,000 T20I runs.
Dale Steyn needs one more wicket to take 700 international wickets.
“There’s not so much you can do at practice but it’s a mental thing. As long as the boys come back strong and not too disappointed [from the first game], we have to come and fight.”
Quinton de Kock admits there’s no time for skills work but wants South Africa to have a positive mindset