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Tahir, Badree at the helm of semifinal aspirations

Wisden India logo Wisden India 24-03-2016

The heavyweight Group 1 clash between South Africa and West Indies at the VCA Stadium in Jamtha, Nagpur, on Friday (March 25) will be all about two power-packed batting line-ups staring down against each other. At a different level, it will also be a contest between two legspinners, both of whom have been very impressive in the ICC World Twenty20 2016.

© AFP Photo

Samuel Badree and Imran Tahir have both got key wickets and controlled the run-rate wonderfully, even if the way they both go about the art of legspin is quite dissimilar. Where Darren Sammy prefers to use Badree first up during the Power Play overs, Faf du Plessis deploys Tahir later. Badree is the more skiddy customer, while Tahir relies on the more traditional legspinning tools such as loop, turn and drift. Both are capable, however, of emulating the other’s gifts if the situation demands it.

And on a surface that has been the spin bowler’s friend throughout the tournament, both will be asked to do the unenviable job of stopping the other side’s big-hitting batsmen. Then there is also the fact that both have been affected by the absence of a fellow spinner. Sunil Narine pulled out of the West Indies World T20 squad early, meaning a Badree-Sulieman Benn combination has become the side’s first choice. Tahir was already the first-choice tweaker, but he will miss the valuable support cast that JP Duminy could have provided, the batting offspinner being forced to sit this match out due to a left hamstring injury. The man likely to partner Tahir will be Aaron Phangiso, the left-arm spinner’s newly cleared action ready to be put to the test.

While that will increase the pressure on both Tahir and Badree, it’s something both welcome.

“Obviously Sunil’s absence is a big blow to the team, we know how dangerous he is especially in these conditions,” said Badree on Wednesday. “We’ve talked about someone having to step up to fill those huge shoes, and I’m happy that thus far in the tournament I was able to do that quite competently. In T20 cricket, you sometimes underestimate how important early wickets are in terms of restricting an opposition. You don’t want to plan too far ahead and when you turn up it’s totally different. You have to be flexible and think on your feet. ”

With Narine absent, Badree has sometimes been held back for a couple of overs in the middle too. “We’ve seen that in the first couple of games, where I’ve started and then was held back for a couple of overs in the middle as well,” he acknowledged. “We’ve seen how important spinners are, especially after the Power Play during the middle overs when the ball is a little bit older. So it’s a tactic of ours to have some spinners during the middle stages. I traditionally bowl the new ball up front and try to give the team a good start. But we play the conditions, we play the opponents and we take a lot of things under consideration when we come up with our plans.”

© Getty Image

For Tahir, the match in Nagpur is a return to a venue that doesn’t contain happy memories for South Africa in the recent past. In November last year, they lost by 124 runs to India, surrendering a proud record in a first away-series loss since 2006.

“That was a Test match and this is T20 cricket, a totally different format,” Tahir sought to brush aside concerns of any residual mental scars. “Our record in T20Is has been very solid and we’ve played very good cricket for the last year and a half, so that gives us a lot of confidence coming into this big game.”

On Tuesday, Russell Domingo, the South Africa coach, all but confirmed that Phangiso and Tahir would form a two-pronged spin attack given Duminy’s absence, saying, “It’s definitely a wicket where you need to play two frontline spinners… Spin is going to be important here and we are fortunate that we have two quality spinners in Imran Tahir and Aaron Phangiso, I’m confident that both of them will get game time on Friday.”

Tahir said he was looking forward to bowling alongside Phangiso. “We can’t control the situation with JP (Duminy), but we have players in the squad who can cover for him,” he said. “[Phangiso] has been doing really well and it’s not like a new thing for him to come in and play in such a big event. It will be exciting to bowl with him.”

South Africa’s best shot at stopping West Indies could well lay in having the Caribbean side set a target. Given the length and strength of their batting line-up, chasing has been West Indies’ forte. “I think it’ll be fair to say that we are stronger in our batting department,” agreed Badree. “We haven’t been tested in terms of defending a total. Luckily thus far, the captain has been able to win both tosses. Here in Nagpur, it seems as if the pitch is going to turn so we might want to bat first and set a total to defend – you never know. I think that’ll be the captain’s call. At the end of the day, as a team we have to be prepared to do well whatever situation we are faced with. Whether we bat first or bowl first, we know that at the end of the day we want to win all our games and send a signal to the other teams that we’re here to compete and win.”

Victory in Nagpur will almost certainly guarantee West Indies the top spot in Group 1 and yet another passage to the semifinal. For South Africa, a defeat will probably shut the doors on their semifinal aspirations. When they have the ball in hand, both sides will be looking to their leggies to keep their dream alive.

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