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‘I had to Google it!’: Bavuma wary of ‘mercurial’ Pakistan threat

South Africa's captain Temba Bavuma plays a shot during the 2023 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup one-day international match between Pakistan and South Africa at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on 27 October 2023. (Photo by R.Satish BABU / AFP)

South Africa skipper Temba Bavuma admitted Thursday that he was so stunned by seeing Pakistan described as “mercurial” that he had to “Google the word” out of respect for his opponents ahead of their World Cup clash.

Pakistan, the 1992 champions, have hit a roadblock at the World Cup with their opening two wins followed by three one-sided defeats to arch-rivals India, Australia, and then to neighbors Afghanistan.

South Africa, on the other hand, has shaken off a shock loss to the Netherlands and has four wins to put them in sight of the semi-finals.

Bavuma, however, is wary of the challenge posed by Pakistan who can be frustratingly mediocre one day but devastatingly brilliant the next.

“I saw a comment that described Pakistan as mercurial,” said Bavuma on the eve of the game on Thursday.

“I had to Google the word, but it spoke about how a team can be good one day and not so good the next.

“So, we want to make sure that when they’re good, we are so good as well.”

Pakistan have won six of the last 10 meetings with South Africa including by 49 runs when they met at Lord’s in the 2019 World Cup.

Current Pakistan skipper Babar Azam made 69 that day in a total of 308 before they limited the Proteas to 259 in their 50 overs.

Six of the South African teams who played in that match are likely to start on Friday.

“We went through the Pakistan team, the threats that they bring, their strengths, and their weaknesses,” said Bavuma who has recovered from a gastric problem that forced him to miss the last two matches.

“We know that they haven’t played close to their best, but tomorrow could be that. We need to make sure we are ready for that.”

Despite struggling in all three departments, Bavuma said Pakistan cannot be written off.

“Before the tournament, I had them as one of the top four teams at the end of the group stages. So that’s the amount of respect that you have for Pakistan.”

Known for falling at crucial stages of international tournaments, a habit that has earned them the tag of “chokers,” Bavuma hopes South Africa’s recent performances can change the narrative.

“I don’t think it’s given us any extra motivation to be honest,” said Bavuma.

“I think we probably looked at ways as to how we can maybe divert our attention away, not necessarily using the chokers tag, but how do we address and deal with the expectation.”

Considering the spin-friendly conditions in Chennai, Bavuma said leg-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi could play Friday.

“We haven’t finalized the team. We haven’t seen the wicket yet. It’s still under covers, but definitely, you can expect Shamsi to come into play,” said Bavuma of the left-arm spinner.

South Africa has been making runs for fun at the World Cup — three times they have passed 350. They have also scored 137, 143, and 144 in the last 10 overs of three matches.

“I think that explosiveness has helped us to be destructive in the death phase. But I think it’s all due to all the foundational work that is done by the guys at the top,” said Bavuma.

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