How does one describe South Africa's campaign in the 2015 World Cup thus far? Good, bad or average? Bizarre would probably be the right word. They have either been extravagantly dominant or submissively meek. After a mixed start against Zimbabwe, where they pulled away on the basis of their batting strength, they were completely torn apart by the Indians. But, they came back and shredded West Indies and Ireland to pieces with consecutive 400 plus scores. But, it all came apart for them again versus Pakistan as they faltered chasing a modest target. Now, as they face UAE, it's all back to square one for the Proteas as they look to rebuild.
There has been an easily decipherable pattern to South Africa's performance in the World Cup. They have been at complete ease batting first, and posting a total on board, which they have defended with nonchalance. At the same time, both their defeats have come while chasing, unable to handle the pressure. This in spite of the fact that they some of the best names in the business in one-dayers like AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla and JP Duminy. While the defeat against India could be put down to the pressure of going after a big total, there was no such excuse for the defeat against Pakistan. They had to chase down less than five runs an over, and yet fell short, prompting de Villiers to admit that they might not be as good as they think.
The problem with the game against UAE is that they will not gain a lot. They are anyways expected to win, and another 400 plus score will now seem hollow in the wake of their defeat against Pakistan. If anything, South Africa can hope that they win the toss, insert the opposition in, and do some chasing practice. Of course, it wouldn't count for much as UAE are not expected to post a tough challenge. But, they must try to regain every inch of confidence they can following the demoralising defeat to Pakistan. One of the biggest worries for them has been the form of Quinton de Kock. It remains to be seen how South Africa tackle the situation. They cannot afford a non-performing opener heading into the knockouts.
South Africa may have progressed to the quarterfinals, but question marks over their ability remain. They seem to be heavily reliant on de Villiers especially while chasing, which is not a good sign going into the knockouts. The likes of Amla, du Plessis, Duminy and even David Miller failed in the chase against Pakistan, putting too much pressure on de Villiers. Each of them is a quality player in his own right, and must pick himself up. Unfortunately for South Africa, not a lot of their questions will be answered in the UAE clash. They would have liked a couple of tough matches heading into the quarters. But, the big matches are over for them, and they flunked the test.
For UAE, the game at Wellington will be a good opportunity to try and prey on South Africa's uncertainty. The Proteas were clearly hurt by the defeat to Pakistan. They would thus look to come all out against UAE, and the latter must be ready to pounce upon any opportunity they get to widen South Africa's wounds. They have had a few good individual performances. Shaiman Anwar has been standout with his consistency, but Amjad Javed, Amjad Ali and Khurram Khan have impressed at various points in the tournament. Skipper Mohammad Tauqir has been incisive with the ball. UAE will look for some more gains against South Africa.
--By A Cricket Analyst