With the pressure off, can South Africa shed their Cricket World Cup ‘chokers’ tag?
In seven Cricket World Cup appearances, South Africa have reached four semi-finals but never the final.
South African cricket is sick of the ‘chokers’ tag, but when you also throw in four Champions Trophy semi-finals since their lone win in 1998 and two World T20 last-four finishes, it is an understandable descriptor.
In truth, that players such as Shaun Pollock, Allan Donald, Herschelle Gibbs, Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers never got a chance to play in a World Cup final is a cricketing anomaly.
South Africa’s last Cricket World Cup game in England ended in THAT Donald run-out, while they were cruising to the final four years ago until Grant Elliott’s late, late fireworks for New Zealand.
His match-winning six, off Dale Steyn’s penultimate ball, meant an all too familiar story for South Africa.
Since then, they have been in dominant ODI form and head into the World Cup ranked third in the world.
Defeats to the top two, India and England, and a disappointing Champions Trophy, are the only blips in an otherwise excellent few years leading up to the tournament.
Faf du Plessis leads a strong batting line-up that – even after De Villiers’ retirement – boasts plenty of firepower in the likes of Quinton de Kock, David Miller and new star Rassie van der Dussen.
On the bowling front, meanwhile, Steyn is still there – as is 40-year-old Imran Tahir – while Lungi Ngidi has been passed fit and Kagiso Rabada is ranked among the world’s best ODI bowlers.
But the big question remains – can they finally end their long wait for a World Cup final? The list of South African icons not to have done so goes on, but Du Plessis and Steyn will be desperate to ensure they do not join it.
Key player: Faf du Plessis
Compared to childhood friend AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis had to wait a long time for his international breakthrough, but South Africa’s captain heads to the World Cup among the world’s best ODI batsmen.
Ranked fifth in the ICC rankings, just below team-mate Quinton de Kock, Du Plessis – an IPL finalist with Chennai Super Kings – is not just an excellent batsman, but a cool and collected captain too.
It is the latter role where he could be vital – having been keen to take the pressure of his team-mates ahead of the tournament.
Since assuming full-time captaincy in August 2017, South Africa’s only ODI slip-up was their heavy defeat to India – but they have won their next five series in a row.
With the bat, meanwhile, Du Plessis kicked off the last series against Sri Lanka with his 11th ODI century and passed 5,000 runs in the format. He averages 46.54 in ODI cricket.
He heads to the World Cup after scoring 396 runs in 12 innings for Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, on the back of the series win against Sri Lanka.
His importance with the bat and in the field, as he bids to do what no South Africa captain has done before – reach the Cricket World Cup final – cannot be understated.
Others to watch
Quinton de Kock
While Du Plessis’ captaincy makes him a key figure for South Africa, Quinton de Kock is one place above him in the ODI rankings and out-scored him in the last series (and in the IPL).
In five matches against Sri Lanka, De Kock scored three half-centuries and one hundred. In 106 ODI matches, he has 21 50s and 14 centuries in total.
The wicket-keeper-batsman the carried his form into the IPL too, where he top-scored for Mumbai Indians on their way to victory – scoring 529 runs in 16 innings in total.
Injury and a loss of form just before the last World Cup proved costly four years ago, but De Kock goes into this year’s tournament at the top of his game.
Kagiso Rabada has been passed fit to play in the World Cup, which is a huge boost to South Africa’s bowling attack after the devastating form he was previously in.
Rabada was unplayable at the IPL, picking up 25 wickets in his first 12 matches before a back strain curtailed his tournament.
The fifth best bowler in ODI cricket according to the world rankings – and third best paceman – Rabada took eight wickets in four games against Sri Lanka prior to that.
Since announcing himself with a hat-trick on his ODI debut, Rabada has claimed 106 wickets in 66 ODI matches and his lightning-fast bowling will be key to South Africa’s chances.
Imran Tahir will quit ODI cricket after this World Cup, but the 40-year-old has a big role to play first.
The former world number one bowler in both ODI and T20i cricket, Tahir still sits fourth overall in the former.
He will play his 100th ODI during the World Cup, and has collected 162 wickets from his first 98 – including his match-winning performance in the quarter-finals four years ago.
His variations and his googly mean Tahir is not just a wicket-taker but an economical ODI bowler too – just as capable of ripping through an opposition’s batting line-up as he is of tying them down.
He goes into the World Cup on the back of his nine wickets in four games against Sri Lanka, with an economy rate of 3.44 runs per over – form he then carried into the IPL.
In India, Tahir took 26 wickets – more than any other bowler – including two four-wicket hauls and with an economy rate of 6.69 runs per over.
South Africa squad for ICC Cricket World Cup 2019
|Faf du Plessis||34||Batsman|
|Quinton de Kock||26||Wicket-keeper-batsman|
|Rassie van der Dussen||30||Batsman|
|JP Duminy||35||All-rounder (OS)|
|Andile Phehlukwayo||23||All-rounder (RFM)|
|Dwaine Pretorius||30||All-rounder (RFM)|
|Dale Steyn||35||Bowler (RF)|
|Kagiso Rabada||24||Bowler (RF)|
|Lungi Ngidi||23||Bowler (RF)|
|Chris Morris||32||All-rounder (RFM)|
|Imran Tahir||40||Bowler (LS)|
|Tabraiz Shamsi||29||Bowler (Chinaman)|
May 30 – South Africa vs England (The Oval, London)
South Africa’s fixture list is sandwiched by two potentially key games.
Circumstance will dictate how important the final game – an Old Trafford day-nighter against Australia – becomes. But the opening game against the hosts is a big chance for South Africa to lay down a marker.
The Proteas’ lone win at the Champions Trophy in 2017 came at The Oval, and defeating the hosts in the tournament’s opening game this time out would be a real statement of intent.
South Africa Cricket World Cup 2019 fixtures
|May 30||England||The Oval, London|
|June 2||Bangladesh||The Oval, London|
|June 5||India||Rose Bowl, Southampton|
|June 10||West Indies||Rose Bowl, Southampton|
|June 15 (D/N)||Afghanistan||Sophia Gardens, Cardiff|
|June 19||New Zealand||Edgbaston, Birmingham|
|June 23||Pakistan||Lord’s, London|
|June 28||Sri Lanka||Riverside, Chester-le-Street|
|July 6 (D/N)||Australia||Old Trafford, Manchester|
Happy to avoid
South Africa’s ODI record stands up for scrutiny against any opposition; they have never lost to an associate team and have only lost two of 38 matches against Zimbabwe too.
So, while South Africa have no reason to fear any team, either at the World Cup or among those who did not make the cut, the Proteas’ will be happy that Grant Elliott is no longer in the New Zealand ranks.
The Johannesburg-born Kiwi was the Black Caps’ hero in the semi-finals four years ago, as South Africa missed out on the World Cup Final once again.
South Africa head to the Cricket World Cup in fine form, having bounced back from their heavy defeat to India in February 2018 with five consecutive ODI series wins.
Victories against Sri Lanka sandwich that run of form, including the 5-0 whitewash at home most recently, while it also includes a 2-1 win in Australia and a 3-2 victory against Pakistan.
After recovering from defeat in their first game to beat Pakistan, South Africa have won eight of their last nine ODIs and were untouchable against Sri Lanka.
They bowled Sri Lanka out in four of their five matches – the only exception being the third match, where the Sri Lankan innings was reduced to 24 overs.
Quinton de Kock then dominated with the bat to ensure South Africa head to the World Cup in red-hot form.
Faf du Plessis might be keen to keep the heat off his team-mates ahead of the World Cup, but this is a team with all the talent to finally reach the final.
A top-four place is a must and then, with a bit more luck and tactical nous than in previous years, they could well end their long wait for a semi-final success.