It is South Africa’s World Cup to lose

Date: January 23, 2015 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

RSA Team“If they don’t choke …”

That is what many fans will say as they consider South Africa’s prospects at next month’s World Cup.

The “C” word has been used after nearly every major limited-overs tournament that the Proteas have played since readmission to the international fold in the early-1990s.

Whether it is the right word to attach to South Africa’s results is debatable, however the reason it has long been prescribed to the Rainbow Nation’s sides doesn’t make for happy reading if you are Proteas’ fan.

South Africa has reached three World Cup semi-finals- 1992, 1999 & 2007 – and lost each of them.

Embarrassingly the team officially placed eighth when it hosted the tournament in 2003.

At the Champions Trophy, the Proteas won the inaugural event – at the time called the ICC Knock-Out Tournament – in 1998.

The team then failed to reach the final in the subsequent seven tournaments.

At Twenty20 level, South Africa has failed to reach the final at the five tournaments held to date.

Since readmission, across the ICC World Cup, Champions Trophy and Twenty20 World Cup, South Africa has contested ten semi-finals for just one win.

That record is an indictment on the various sides that have worn the national colours in the past 20-odd years.

Since being welcomed back to cricket’s bosom The Republic has churned out high quality players – some of them greats of the game.

Yet despite squads that included names like Kallis, Smith, Steyn, Pollock, Donald, Boucher, Ntini, De Villiers, Amla and Cronje the Cricket South Africa headquarters is largely devoid of silverware.

Will it change this time around?

For mine, South Africa is the pre-tournament favourite, narrowly ahead of Australia.

The Proteas are currently ranked third on the ODI rankings with 113 points, behind Australia (119) and India (115).

Despite that place on the global pecking order I still fancy them.

The squad is laden with talent – some of it almost superhuman in cricket terms.

A B De Villiers and Hashim Amla are the number two and three ranked batsmen in the 50-over arena.

Opener Quentin de Kock has scored six centuries from his 35 ODIs and averages 43.6.

Faf du Plessis and J P Duminy are both seasoned campaigners who have often played match-winning innings while Rilee Rossow is a free-scoring newcomer to the team.

But it is De Villiers and Amla who are the gold standard when it comes to the team’s batting.

Skipper De Villiers is a player of freakish ability aptly highlighted by his world record 31-ball century earlier in the week against the West Indies.

In full flight – and of late that seems to be most times he strides to the pitch – he can prove unstoppable.

He has the ability to score to every part of the ground, whether it is with classical strokes or the type that are improvised by only those who carry a level of genius.

His career strike rate of 97 through 177 matches underlines the potency of his batting as do his 19 centuries and 52-run average.

At 30 years of age De Villiers is in the peak of his career.

Vice-captain Amla is a year older but his stats are equally impressive – 105 matches, 18 centuries at 55 and a strike rate of 89.

His wristy flicks through the onside are a feature of his play as is his hunger to amass serious scores – he is his country’s only player to score a Test triple century.

Should the pair bat together for any length of time at the World Cup the crowds will be royally entertained to the same degree that their opponents will be frustrated.

With abundant firepower we can expect the Proteas to score both quickly and heavily.

On the bowling front, Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel form a considerable pace bowling triumvirate with each bringing their own strengths.

Steyn is a pure Rolls-Royce.

His ability to bowl genuine, controlled out-swing at over 145km/h has made him one of the game’s most destructive forces across all three forms of cricket.

The number one ranked Test bowler in the world, he sits third on the ODI rankings.

Morkel continues to improve and he has the ability to bowl destructive spells with his praying mantis-like frame producing steepling bounce that can trouble the best, as Michael Clarke could clearly attest.

Philander is wily, and like Steyn, a master of outswing although he operates at a significantly lower pace.

If injury besets the frontline trio there is capable back-up in the form of Kyle Abbott and Wayne Parnell.

Australian fans will remember leg-spinner Imran Tahir for his ill-fated Test at the Adelaide Oval in 2012-13 when he went wicket-less through 37 overs whilst conceding a whopping 260 runs.

His efforts with the white ball have belied that performance.

In ODIs he has an average of 21 and a strike rate of 29 along with an economy rate of 4.4 which is outstanding for a leg-spinner in modern form ODI cricket.

He will prove a useful foil to the quicks.

One area where South Africa could be exposed is the fifth bowler or bowlers who will be required to make up ten overs.

Duminy will be part of that equation and will be expected to apply the brakes as best he can with his left-arm finger spinners.

De Villiers by nature is an attacking player and we can expect that to carry through to his captaincy.

On paper – not that that is where matches are decided – this current Proteas’ squad may be the best balanced and most potent to step out in a major tournament.

Will they choke?

They shouldn’t but only time will tell.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 22 January 2015