They may be perennial chokers, but South Africa have made the knockouts in every edition barring 2003 since their maiden World Cup appearance in the 1992 edition. With a mixed bag of experience and first-timers, South Africa, a team who have traditionally started the ICC World Cups as one of the strongest and favourites find themselves on the back foot this year primarily because of injuries that have plagued their key strike bowlers and a batting lineup that looks fragile.
While the likes of Aiden Markram and Lungi Ngidi will be playing their first 50-over World Cup, the experienced duo of captain Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla will be participating in their third edition of cricket’s premier tournament. They have reached the semifinals thrice, and every time they have reached the last four stage, it has been a matter of coming ‘so close and yet so far’. The tag of underachievers has not separated from South Africa since their heartbreaking loss to Australia in the semifinals of the Cricket World Cup 1999 and they are yet to reach the summit clash of the World Cup. Read all about it here!
The Proteas however head into the World Cup quietly confident of being a competitive force at the tournament. When chief selector Linda Zondi unveiled the squad there was a feeling among team management that a good balance had been struck in the 15-man group. Anrich Nortje was forced to withdraw from the squad with injury and was replaced by Chris Morris, ensuring the Proteas head into the tournament with three seam-bowling allrounders to go with three specialist quicks. South Africa coach Ottis Gibson too had moved to dispel fears that Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn will not be fit for the start of the Proteas’ World Cup campaign.
With a painful history at the showpiece event, time after time, after a strong start, falling in the knockout stages and the the tag of ‘chokers’ that is starting to suddenly look all too real, the players themselves are acknowledging they aren’t the title contenders they once were. In 2015, they made it to the last-four only to be beaten by co-hosts New Zealand in a dramatic semi-final. A weight of history heavy on their shoulders, can the Proteas defy the odds and go all the way to a maiden trophy?
Before the action begins, South Africa play two official warm-up games that give them the opportunity to fine-tune their playing XI. These matches are different in the sense that the teams are free to play all 15 of their squad to experiment with their lineups and test players for fitness issues. Both games are at 03.00pm and will be telecast on Star Sports and streamed live on Hotstar.
Faf du Plessis (captain), Quinton de Kock (wk), David Miller, JP Duminy, Hashim Amla, Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen, Dwaine Pretorius, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn, Lungi Ngidi, Chris Morris, Imran Tahir, Tabraiz Shamsi
The Proteas carry the unflattering tag of ‘chokers’ for losing matches from winning positions, sometimes for no fault of theirs. This mercurial side will look to set the record straight.
Strength: One of the best bowling attacks in the world. If the pace of Dale Steyn or Kagiso Rabada doesn’t get you, look out for the spin of the irrepressible Imran Tahir
Weakness: Absence of batting lynchpin AB de Villiers is a huge setback. The unreliable batting could be their weakest link
They’re ambitions would largely hinge on their potent attack, led by young Kagiso Rabada and veteran Imran Tahir, as South Africa make their eighth attempt to achieve sport’s biggest prize. Considering the English conditions, South Africa’s bowling attack has all bases covered with top quality pacers and spinners ready to be unleashed. Veteran speedster Steyn, young pacer Kagiso Rabada and leg-spinner Tahir hold the key to their ambitions. If fit, Steyn could be a potent weapon. Rabada and Tahir, among the top five ODI bowlers in the world, have recently put up dominating performances for their respective Indian T20 League franchises and in-form Rabada has the speed, variation, and can take the new ball as well as can bowl at the close with equal measure.
A quality wrist-spinner is a must for any team fancying its chances at the World Cup and in Tahir, who has 162 wickets at an average of 24 in 98 ODIs, South Africa have that weapon. Needing just four wickets to break the 200-barrier at the World Cup, Steyn, 35, would hope to stay injury free to provide crucial breakthroughs to the team, besides offering guidance to the likes of Rabada and Lungi Ngidi. A fine attack can give the Proteas an option to go for a batting all-rounder at No. 7 – Andile Phehlukwayo, who has been performing well since 2015 averaging 31.3 with the bat and 29.8 with the ball.
The Proteas would largely depend on their attack in the absence of the proven match winner AB de Villiers, who is now retired. They do not boast big match-winners like some of the other teams but there is no dearth of experience with captain Faf du Plessis, Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, J P Duminy forming the core of their batting.
Du Plessis, Amla, Duminy, Tahir and Steyn will be playing their third World Cup, while de Kock and David Miller are making their second appearance at the mega event.
A shrewd skipper, du Plessis, who has scored 2777 runs at 60.4 since the last World Cup, has managed to extract maximum output from his team by winning 11 of their last 13 series. But past records have little relevance in quadrennial events like the World Cup.
Despite a poor run of form in recent times, the 36-year-old Amla was selected ahead of opening batsman Reeza Hendricks, who played 18 consecutive ODIs before being dropped against Sri Lanka in March. His record of 27 ODI tons is hard to ignore but over the past year, Amla’s form has been a cause of concern. South Africa can only hope that the veteran finds his touch when it matters the most. Amla and de Kock has been South Africa’s most successful opening pair since the last World Cup, with 2442 runs and four century stands at 51.96 in 49 matches.
Young Aiden Markram has been included on the basis of strong domestic form but he averages just 29 in 19 One-day Internationals. David Miller has five ODI centuries but enters the World Cup in good touch. The decision to do away with the racial quotas at the World Cup is also expected to benefit the South Africans.
Cricket South Africa chief executive Thabang Moroe recently said that racial quotas, where the board has an official target of black players making up 55 per cent of teams, would not apply in the World Cup.
South Africa’s campaign at the 2015 World Cup ended in controversy over quotas when the team management was forced to pick Vernon Philander for the semi-final against New Zealand though it wanted to retain the winning combination. Shedding the dark mist that surrounds South African cricket in knockout events will be their goal in the English summer.
SOUTH AFRICA AT THE WORLD CUP
Their best finish at the World Cup is their semifinal appearances at the 1992, 1999, 2007 and 2015 World Cups.
The Proteas have lost all of their four semi-finals as England defeated them in 1992, Australia eliminated them in 1999 and 2007 while New Zealand conquered their challenge in the 2015 World Cup.
The rainbow nation have only lost 18 out of their 55 matches and played two ties whilst winning 35 matches. They have played the most number of tied World Cup matches as they tied a game against Australia in 1999 and versus Sri Lanka in the 2003 World Cup.
Played – 55 | Won – 35 | Lost – 18| Tied/No Result – 2 | Win percentage – 65.45%
1992 – semi-final 1996 – quarter-final 1999 – semi-final 2003 – out in group stage 2007 – semi-final 2011 – quarter-final 2015 – semi-final
Most runs: AB de Villiers (1207 runs in 23 matches)
Most wickets: Allan Donald (38 in 25 matches)
South Africa have had a decent run in the lead-up to the marquee event, defeating Pakistan and Sri Lanka in back-to-back series at home and must not weigh themselves down by the chokers tag, instead accept it and go in as underdogs. This sentiment was expressed recently by Proteas’ former Performance Director Paddy Upton.
“I think the ‘chokers’ label for South Africa is a little bit too exaggerated and it’s also unfair. But I do realise that South Africa have struggled and could have performed better. They will, in time, win one of these big trophies.
Shedding the dark mist that surrounds South African cricket in knockout events will be their goal this English summer.
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