TEMBA Bavuma once looked up on Google the word “mercurial”, which was used to describe the Pakistan cricket team in a comment that he read.
“It spoke about how a team can be good one day and not so good the other day,” the South African captain — in a press conference here at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium — said of his learnings about the side he is set to face on Friday in the World Cup clash.
Pakistan’s mercury levels, after an initial spike that lasted two games, have dropped drastically as they fear missing out on a semi-final place after having lost their last three.
Historically, though, the team is known to bounce back when they are cornered, and have got nothing to lose.
South Africa, on the other hand, are tagged as “the chokers”, for their knack of slipping out of trophy contention in big tournaments, especially when they have been flying high.
They are doing so in the ongoing World Cup again, coming into the Pakistan fixture having won four matches out of four — the one defeat an upset against minnows Netherlands.
“…we want to make sure that when they’re good, we are so good as well,” Bavuma would conclude his assessment of Pakistan.
To ensure they are good, Pakistan may well go on and do unusual things, since the usual hasn’t worked for them throughout the course of the tournament.
With pacer Hasan Ali ruled out for the South Africa clash, one of the travelling reserves, fast bowler Zaman Khan and mystery spinner Abrar Ahmed, are likely to be brought into the side.
Pakistan opener Fakhar Zaman, whose poor form followed by a problematic knee had kept him out after he played the opening match, was jogging around the venue after batting in the nets during practice on Thursday.
“Our team has bounced back from this situation before and hopefully, we will come out of this situation [again],” Pakistan vice-captain Shadab Khan told a press conference.
In Pakistan’s loss to Afghanistan in their previous game — their third in a row, Shadab partnered Iftikhar Ahmed in a quickfire partnership that had helped them post a fighting total after a slow start.
The all-rounder said the team’s batters would need to take an even more aggressive approach if they are to overcome South Africa.
“It is very important, especially nowadays how cricket is played now, modern day cricket, 330-350 is like just a par score,” he noted. “So, everyone has to play like that and have everyone, like, especially for us, where we bat, me and Iftikhar, we have to finish like that.”
Iftikhar and Shadab had to come up with something special because Pakistan were restricted by Afghanistan spinners Rashid Khan and Noor Ahmed.
Against South Africa, Babar Azam’s men will be up against the likes of Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi — a chinaman bowler like Noor.
“Definitely you can expect for Shamsi to come into play,” Bavuma said, nearly confirming that would be the case.
The opener — who sat out his side’s last two games due to illness — said South Africa would carry on their approach of aiming to set targets of more than 350 runs.
“I think the process in itself, batting here in Chennai, that’s not going to change,” noted Bavuma. “We’ll assess the wicket and, I guess, come up with options as to how we can be successful. And if the opportunity is there for us to score 350, we’ll do so. If not, we’ll make sure we play what’s happening in front of us as best as we can.”
The South African skipper was wary that Pakistan could bring on to the table despite their poor form.
“We don’t have a great record, to be honest, against Pakistan in ODIs,” Bavuma conceded. “So, I think with everything that is happening around their team, the things that are not happening well for them.
“I think that humbles us as a team and it really gets us, I guess, to just pull ourselves back and make sure that we still focus on playing good cricket.”
Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2023