USA fall short in dramatic chase of South Africa

USA's Aaron Jones prepares for the toss as USA take on South Africa in Antigua in the 2024 ICC Men's T20 World Cup

An impressive knock from Quinton de Kock and brilliant death bowling from Kagiso Rabada proved to be the difference in the first Super Eights Super Group match between USA and South Africa in St Lucia, as USA clawed back in the chase thanks to a 91 run partnership for their sixth wicket. 

After a big comeback victory against Canada to kick off the 2024 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, USA stunned Pakistan and took India to the limit, before a rain-induced cancellation against Ireland gave USA five points in the group stage, and punched their ticket to the round of eight. 

With Captain Monank Patel still out of the lineup nursing an injured shoulder, Shayan Jahangir stayed in the team with vice captain Aaron Jones taking the reins for the second straight game. 

South Africa eased into the Daren Sammy Stadium wicket with only seven from the first eleven balls, thanks to a careful three run over against USA star lefty Saurabh Netravalkar. But the Proteas showed their intent when Reeza Hendricks freed his hands and smashed a six over cover on the final ball of Ali Khan’s first over. 

Four balls later, Hendricks would pay the price for his aggression, charging a good length delivery from Saurabh and skying a chance through the swirling winds into the hands of Corey Anderson. The burly New Zealander-turned-Texan bent his knees and laid back to compensate for the steep angle of the drop and South Africa were 17 for 1 following a dot and a single to close out the third frame.

USA found their relief to be short lasting, however, as Jessy Singh would take over for Ali Khan and concede the most punishing over of the day. A four and a single from Aiden Markram brought de Kock to the batters end, and an immediate four run boundary signaled that Jessy might be the bowler that South Africa would target. A six on the next ball only got worse when the umpire raised his arm to signal no ball, an issue which has plagued Jessy for much of his international career, made more difficult with the presence of replay technology at this level of play. The free hit went for six as well, giving the South Africans a perfect score of 13 from the 4th ball of the over. Another six, sent to the moon over de Kock’s shoulder to deep fine leg, would bring the over to 28 runs, and it would mercifully end there after what seemed like an unthinkable dot ball closed out the over.

Kenjige entered for the fifth over, conceding three runs from the first four balls, but ending with two de Kock boundaries for eleven. Ali Khan’s sixth started similarly, allowing two from the first four, before a slower and shorter delivery was dispatched by de Kock to deep midwicket with significant acreage to spare. A dot ball kept it to eight runs on the over, but the massive six spoiled a much needed recovery for USA.

With the powerplay finished, South Africa were 64 for the loss of one, and there was a sense that the runs-starved Proteas were making up for lost time after a slow start with the bat throughout the group stage.

A five run seventh over was a welcome start for Harmeet Singh’s spell, but the move to off spin bowling in the eighth proved expensive. Surely in the attack to answer the left handed de Kock, Taylor went for 14 runs, as right hander Aiden Markram took advantage of the mismatch with a four and a sixth on the third and fourth balls.

A no ball four on the fifth ball of the ninth over was followed by a dot ball for the free hit, and Harmeet escaped with only 10 runs of damage. Taylor stayed on for the tenth and delivered five balls to de Kock, but failed to get his man, though he conceded only eight for the over, a neutral but acceptable result, as USA were in damage control mode. 

Singh stayed in the attack in the eleventh, with two dots, three singles and a four run Markram boundary, and South Africa dipped below ten runs an over for only the second time since the third frame at 108 for the loss of one. From this position, South Africa appeared poised to set an unreachable target.

Corey Anderson, who has proved to be a useful option so far this World Cup, showed again how South Africa were targeting part timers, as de Kock scored a six and two boundary fours en route to a 17 run 12th, and South Africa were storming off with the game at 125 for one wicket after 12.

As he’s done more often than any bowler in USA’s prior ten games, Harmeet Singh stayed on to complete his entire spell in succession, taking the ball in the 13th over. After a single to Markram with the first ball, USA’s top spinner finally struck with a waist high full toss and de Kock was caught by a tightrope walking Father Shay Jahangir at the cow corner boundary.

Finally, de Kock was out of the middle, but had he done all the damage needed to secure victory with his knock of 74 from 40 runs? For USA, Harmeet Singh was asking his own questions.

South Africa sent in another lefty batter, David Miller, to answer the left arm Harmeet, but Miller would last only one ball. Skipping in from around the wicket, Harmeet used the full width of the crease and flighted the ball across the face of Miller. The ball stuck a bit in the wicket and found a top edge for an easy caught and bowled wicket, and Harmeet was on hat trick with South Africa at 126 for the loss of two. Two dots and a single to Klaasen ended a two run over and closed the book on Harmeet’s spell at a smothering four overs for 24 runs and two wickets.

Kenjige would return for his second over in the 14th, conceding only six to the reorganizing South Africans. The 15th over brought Saurabh back into the attack, and Markram welcomed him with a four behind point off of the first ball, a slower delivery just a bit too wide for the patient and set right hander. Four singles would bring Markram back on strike for the final ball of the over, and the righty would slice a full and wider delivery towards the feet of Ali Khan, who took a textbook catch diving in at deep point. South Africa were now 141 for four runs after 15, a respectable recovery for the World Cup debutants.

Klaasen, perhaps the best player of spin in all of T20 cricket, would be on strike to start the 16th over against Kenjige, and the innings was in the balance in the most literal sense. A wicket here could put USA ahead, and a big over from South Africa could go a long way in cashing in on the promise of the first ten overs.

Kenjige made the cardinal sin of bowling too short to Klaasen on the first ball of the over, and the prolific scorer leaned back, cleared his leg, and swatted a flat shot off the outstretched fingertip of Nitish Kumar at the long off boundary for six. Kenjige did well to recover and limit the over to twelve, but it was a clear victory for the batting side, as the early six might have deterred USA from taking a more aggressive approach in pursuit of the fifth wicket.

Jessy Singh returned in the 17th and limited South Africa to eight runs, in spite of two wides, again easing the pressure off of the batting team with extras. Ali Khan bowled the 18th, conceding 12, and Saurabh ended the 19th with four dots after surrendering a four and two in the first two balls of the frame, putting South Africa at 179 for 4 heading into the final over.

Klaasen smashed Ali Khan’s short delivery on the third ball of the final over for six, and Khan was backed into a corner on the final three deliveries needing to go to his yorker. With Stubbs on strike for the final ball and with confidence in reading Khan’s approach, he ramped the yorker attempt on the stumps straight over the keeper for four to end South Africa’s innings at 194 for the loss of four. 

Still, an expensive 20th over couldn’t squash the hope that USA had built after coming back from 101 for 1 at the halfway point of the innings. Surely there was no reason to believe that USA couldn’t give South Africa the same fight they’d given Canada and Pakistan in two successful chases that helped them into the Super Eight stage.

Steven Taylor wasted no time in the chase keeping that hope alive, with a cut shot for four to backward point on Marco Jansen’s first delivery. Four dots from Andries Gous to end the over after a Taylor single on the second ball put Taylor on strike again to face Markram in the second. Dot, Six, Four on the first three balls from Taylor proved that the USA’s best home grown talent since Bart King was here to deliver, and USA would end the second over at 18 runs without loss.

Ten more runs off Jansen in the third kept the scoreboard ticking, eight of which came off of the lefthander’s bat, and Taylor was at 24 runs from 13 balls closing out the third to put USA at 28 for none. South Africa would insert Kagiso Rabada in the attack in the fourth over, and after a four from Gous and a leg bye, Taylor would enter the crosshairs of the supremely talented fast bowler. A back of length delivery would cramp Taylor for space too quickly and find the splice of the bat as USA’s thunderous opener would attempt to send the ball over the inner circle. Instead, Taylor flubbed an easy catch into the sure hands of Heinrich Klaasen for the first American wicket, and USA were 33 for one midway through the fourth over.

A huge 17 run fifth saw Nitish Kumar immediately smashing a full delivery from Jansen for six to long on off of the second ball of the frame, and Gous doing the same with the fifth ball, charging a length delivery and walloping it to the same area.

Rabada would stay in the attack in the sixth and final powerplay over, and send Nitish Kumar back to the dugout after only eight runs from six balls, caught by Stubbs at deep square leg. Three dot balls to new batter Aaron Jones would close out the powerplay with USA a little behind at 53 for the loss of two.

Keshav Maharaj would exploit the new batter with the fourth ball of the seventh over, as Jones feather-edged a fourth stump delivery into the gloves of de Kock, and USA would end the seventh over 57 for 3.

Two uneventful overs to Gous and Anderson from Nortje and Maharaj took the score to 65 for 3 after nine overs before Anderson would turn on the gas with the second ball of the tenth over. A shorter delivery from one of the world’s fastest bowlers didn’t phase Anderson, who crushed the ball to deep midwicket for USA’s first sixe run ball since the fifth over. Nortje would have revenge immediately, sending a full length missile into leg stump for USA’s fourth over, bringing Jahangir to the crease and sending USA reeling at 73 for 4 after 10 overs, a stark contrast to the first ten overs from South Africa.

The only good news about three runs against Maharaj in the 11th over was that he only had one more over left, but now it was Shamsi’s turn to bowl for the first time, and South Africa’s depth appeared put a huge exclamation point on the equation: “119 runs needed from 54 balls with six wickets in hand!”

With his very first ball, the left arm leg spinning unicorn beat Jahangir’s bat and struck his pads, and the review couldn’t have been more conclusive, showing the ball hitting the middle of middle stump. The review was perhaps wasted on a sure out, but USA were running out of batters and there was no reason to hold on to reviews at this point.

Harmeet Singh would come to the middle with USA now five wickets down with 76 runs on the board and five deliveries left against the mystery man. Harmeet and Gous, former teammates who powered the Seattle Thunderbolts to the 2022 Minor League Cricket Championship, would swap singles and fours to make the best of the over and signal that these were not the two batters who would go down without a fight.

Twelve runs in the 13th would double Maharaj’s run invoice from his prior three overs combined, and a four run setback against Shamsi in the 14th would prove to be a fluke, as the courageous lefty righty duo would score 19 in the 15th thanks to 18 off the bat of Gous, including two sixes to close out the over against Nortje. 

Harmeet would turn on the gas in the 16th with a six off Shamsi’s first ball, giving USA another 13 runs to put them at 135 for 5, and suddenly 60 needed from 24 had a nice ring to it.

But Rabada still had two overs left in his spell, and he’d spend one in the 17th, in which USA were almost lucky to get away with 10, thanks to a no ball and a wide. Shami would end his spell on the opposite foot as he began it, with two wides and three sixes. Two of those maximums came on the final two balls by Andries Gous, who had now finished two of the prior four overs with sixes on the final two balls.

With USA now needing only 28 runs from 12 deliveries, USA was again in a position to upset a top squad. But Kagiso Rabada was ready to spoil the party, and Stubbs took a nice catch at the deep midwicket boundary after Rabada offered up a full toss that was hit cleanly but unavoidably flat. Harmeet ended his day with a clutch 38 runs from 22 balls, doing his part in a 91 run sixth wicket partnership that helped create one of the most exciting chases of the World Cup.

With Jessy Singh now at the crease, and USA at 169 for 6, Rabada was just too good with his execution, and USA managed only two from the final five balls of the over, leaving them with 26 needed from the final six balls.

A dot ball to Jessy on the final ball of the 19th meant that Gous would start the final over on strike, but an ill advised single took the bat out of the hot batter’s hands, and when he returned on strike for the third ball of the over, USA still needed 24, but now with four deliveries to go. A dot on the third ball put the game out of reach, and Nortje only needed three more good balls to seal the win, which proved to be no problem. A four and a single from Gous only served to push his total to 80 from 47 balls, and USA would end the chase 18 runs short at 176 for the loss of six. One can’t help but wonder whether USA could have made the full push had Gous faced 55 or more balls.

What’s next for USA?

USA’s next opportunity to shock the world will come on Friday at 8:30pm Eastern Time at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados. If you live in the USA, and you want to watch this game and the rest of the T20 World Cup, you can purchase a one month subscription to WillowTV for $9.99, and renew for a second month to catch USA and other international stars in Major League Cricket. This is not a paid advertisement.

Also, be sure to check out Emerging Cricket’s Big Innings podcast for more coverage of USA Cricket and MLC action.

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