If spinning is the key to winning the World Twenty20 - and the Asian sides have each forwarded a compelling case so far - then South Africa have proved they should not be counted out. Accepted wisdom has it that South African pitches are a graveyard for slow-bowlers. As such, their national team has always reflected a wealth of pace bowling stocks, compared to a bare cupboard of spinners.
However, as the Proteas have marched to the top of the world in all forms of the game, so times have changed. Johann Botha, the off-spinner, has captained the Proteas when Graeme Smith was absent in the recent past, so established is he in the ranks. Roelof van der Merwe, a stocky left-arm spinner who made his debut against Australia recently, confirmed his promise by earning the match award in the pool stage win over New Zealand.
During his parsimonious four overs, he removed two of the format's most dangerous batsmen, Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum. Van der Merwe said: "I don't worry too much about getting wickets. I like containing. I worked out how to get McCullum out running down the wicket." Today, Smith's side have done their homework as they take on England in their opening Super Eights match. Smith is wary of the inconsistent host nation, who first lost to the Netherlands in one of the sports greatest ever upsets, before thrashing Pakistan.
The English had also called on two spinners, Graeme Swann and Adil Rashid, in that decisive win over Pakistan last time out. Smith said: "We will be preparing as though we get the England who played so well against Pakistan. England have some class players, and will obviously have the home support going into the game, so it is a great challenge for us." England insist the opening game loss was just an aberration. Stuart Broad, who had a terrible last over in that game, believes they have developed as a side since then and can now compete in the next stage.
"I don't think what happened on Friday will disrupt our momentum much because we've had a great start to the summer and it was such a tight finish," said Broad, who grabbed 3-17 to set up the emphatic win over Pakistan. "If we'd been hammered that might have hurt a bit more, but having only just lost and then beating Pakistan well, I think it is quite easy to move on from." New Zealand and Ireland are the warm-up act ahead of England's match at Trent Bridge today.
McCullum, who has been Daniel Vettori's stand-in as New Zealand captain so far in the competition, deems the encounter against the Associate side "incredibly important". The Black Caps have been hit by a spate of injuries in recent days. Jesse Ryder, James Franklin and Vettori were all ruled out of their defeat to South Africa, while the influential Taylor suffered a hamstring strain in that game.
A number of players have been laid low by a stomach ailment, with the opener Ryder hospitalised as a consequence. "Jesse is continuing to suffer serious discomfort and has been admitted to hospital for observation and further tests," said their team manager Dave Currie. McCullum convinced Taylor to stay with him at the wicket and bat with a runner after he injured his hamstring. It was a brave ploy as the match was essentially a dead rubber and Taylor ran the risk of aggravating the injury further.
McCullum reasoned: "It was my idea. A guy like that is capable of hitting the ball at 80 per cent and still putting it out of the park." firstname.lastname@example.org