Both the teams have the strongest batting unit in this World Cup and their exceptional bowlers make them even better.
“They’re a little old for opening innings, aren’t they?”
“Very conservative in the middle. The world has left them behind.”
If these lines were spoken about a strong World Cup contender four years ago, you would immediately think India was being talked about. During this World Cup, India is nowhere near looking that part (they are stronger contenders, by the way), but there is another strong contender playing that kind of cricket: South Africa. Indeed, if one team could be an enlarged print of the Rohit Sharma template that brought him double-hundreds, it would be South Africa in the 2023 World Cup.
Rohit himself, however, set fire to that template of starting slow, getting on his own base, and steadily accelerating the innings. He lifts his left-arm foe over the infield, he dances up to the fastest bowlers, and he is the fastest powerplay batter in the World Cup* bar Travis Head, who has played just one inning, and Jos Buttler who only faced 12 balls in the first ten overs. Rohit is also the greatest run-getter during the powerplay.
South Africa are slower than Pakistan in the powerplay; Only Australia is faster than India. South Africa will want a solid base and continue to turn on the heat. India wants to start red hot, and then adjust as needed. By the time the death overs arrived, South Africa had become beasts and had scored 24 more runs than the next best team in those overs. By the time the death overs came, India had already won the match, so their death tolls were not for any comparison.
India’s bowling numbers at the death are significant, as they are the best finishers with the ball: just 5.4 overs and one wicket every 12.72 runs. As a team, India turned the ball over more than any other side, making Mohammed Shami deadly at the end. However, they have a bowling god in Jasprit Bumrah in the end. Their spinners – bowling in the 40-45 band because teams have started targeting 35-40 to cash in on field restrictions – bowled 13 death overs in 2.88 overs.
In this strange world, two of the five fastest batsmen against spin in this World Cup are South Africans: the fair dinkum spin assassin Heinrich Klaasen and the brilliant David Miller . They also have this long hard hitter, Aiden Markram, in the middle.
Kuldeep Yadav might want to tell them that they have never faced a spinner who looked like he was assembled in the laboratory of a mad scientist. He did the most amazing skills, left-arm pulse, but still did not leave the stumps and also bowls at a speed that does not allow you to recover.
Tabraiz Shamsi, who the South African batter has faced a lot in the nets, will be the first to tell the South African batters that this is not how the left-arm wrists should be bent. They are meant to be error-prone eccentrics who go from terrible to terrible. They are not meant to be stock bowlers who keep sprinkling their little magic every now and then. Kuldeep averaged 16.16 at 4.72 over ten matches against South Africa, and that included only three matches with this streamlined straighter run-up and increased pace.
Then again, despite steamrolling the biggest opposition, have India ever faced an attacking collective playing at such pace and in such good form? Marco Jansen, in this form the closest thing to a lab-assembled pace-bowling counterpart to Kuldeep, took a wicket every 16 balls in the powerplay, almost always getting South Africa off to a good start. He is taller than 6’9″, swings the new ball, bowls high speed, does not fall into the trap of using his height but still confusing bounce, making his hard length harder than most.
Lungi Ngidi has used his India and CSK experience, and Kagiso Rabada’s class shines in a format longer than 20 overs. They averaged one maiden per match. With Keshav Maharaj a former banker, Gerald Coetzee has real freedom to be a wild thing.
If India can claim that the real test of South Africa’s impersonation in a Rohit innings comes on Sunday, there is a real case to consider it the worst test for India’s batting. This is perhaps where India’s batting ranks above South Africa: their overall body of work suggests they are the most versatile batting unit in this World Cup, able to adjust their games to the widest possible extent. conditions, be it batting first or chasing.
It is fitting that this match has a significant say in which team tops the table and thus earns the right to fight the fourth-placed team in the semi-final. Tactically the teams will not approach this very differently to the rest of their campaign. The data for match-ups is not recent enough. Just expect more elements in the reverse swing. Expect Mohammed Siraj to come back into the attack before Bumrah as has been the case in the matches India are expecting to repeat. These teams are Nos. one of the easy scoring grounds, to make it more about the bowlers as it has been here so far.
In an ideal world, you would want South Africa to bat first and not go more than two in 35 overs to see what really happens when the best death batsmen face the best bowlers of death. And then see how the best chasers react against an opposing bowling unit. In these conditions, however, the chances are that the bowlers on either side can spoil that pattern.
* Stats at the end of the game on November 3.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo