As part of a series of articles leading up to the World Cup, Cricket Web presents a daily review on the background, players and prospects a specific competing team, starting with the minnows and building up to the favourites. Today we feature South Africa.
CW World Cup Countdown. Day 15 - South Africa
11 Mar 2007
By: Kev Goughy
Cursed, jinxed or just not good enough? Whatever the reason, South Africa's previous adventures in World Cup Land have been eventful but ultimately disappointing. Now having overtaken Australia as the world number one and promising a new era of 'brave' cricket, will 2007 be different?
Leadup to the Tournament
South Africa enters the tournament as the top ranked One Day International team in the world. Much has been said to downplay this, however, it cannot be argued that South Africa have been in fine form recently. Since a disappointing Champions Trophy semi-final defeat at the hands of the West Indies, South Africa have destroyed India and Pakistan. In eight completed games against these opponents they have won seven and only lost once.
For the 2007 World Cup, South Africa is drawn in Group A (based in St. Kitts & Nevis) along with Australia, Scotland and The Netherlands.
Players to Watch
Brash, outspoken and not always popular, Smith is still the emotional and physical leader of this team. When Smith performs well, South Africa win. Few other teams have such a link between the performance of their captain and that of the team. Smith is always willing to stand up and be counted, take pressure on himself and deflect it away from the team. However, teams will increasingly target him and he needs to bat well in order for South Africa to realize their pre-tournament promise.
Nothing defines South Africa's commitment to 'brave' cricket more than the selection of Bosman. Bosman has a poor domestic record in recent years yet he is a ball-striker of renown and a Twenty/20 expert. His role is to blaze away at the start of the innings and put the opposition under pressure. Given the strength of South Africa's batting line-up, if Bosman is successful then the team will be in a dominating position. However, given his record and the tracks the games will be played on, this strategy of 'brave' cricket is a long way from being guaranteed glory.
It is difficult to find words impressive enough to describe Shaun Pollock, however, recently South African legend Vince van der Bijl tried. Pollock is "skilled, dedicated, fully prepared, ruthless on the field, methodical, exacting and patient" said van der Bijl, also calling him the "perfect package." Few greats have come back so strong after being pre-maturely written off. After a couple of seasons below his own high standard, Pollock has become rejuvenated and is currently the best One Day bowler in world cricket.
With Australia witnessing a number of recent retirements from One Day cricket, no other team can currently match the strength of South Africa's 6 core players. Smith, Gibbs, Kallis, Boucher, Ntini and Pollock are experienced match winners with both the bat and the ball. These players are the core of a tough, organized South African unit.
South Africa possesses envious levels of batting and bowling depth. If Andrew Hall plays, South Africa is capable of fielding a team comprised of 9 batsmen (Smith, Bosman, Kallis, de Villiers, Gibbs, Kemp, Boucher, Pollock and Hall) and 7 bowlers (Ntini, Nel, Pollock, Hall, Kemp, Kallis with Smith as the occasional 7th ). No other team comes close to matching this depth and it gives the team the potential to recover from virtually any foreseeable situation and play with a great deal of freedom.
South Africa is blessed with a consistently powerful and aggressive middle-lower order batting line-up. If the top order sets a good foundation, then this South African team is capable of destroying a bowling attack and posting or chasing an intimidating total. No total is safe, and the game is never lost for South Africa when dealing with this level of firepower and depth. In the last 10-15 overs, Kemp, Boucher and Pollock can take the game away from the opposition.
Aside from the batting, South Africa enters the tournament with the strongest fast bowling unit in the world. Spearheaded by Ntini and Pollock, this South African attack is capable of regularly taking early wickets and destroying the opponents' top order. Ntini and Pollock are ably backed up by Nel, Langeveldt and Kallis.
The early reports on the nature of a number of the tracks the games will be played on will turn the spotlight on a certain perceived South African weaknesses. The slow, low nature of the wickets are not best suited to the South African team design.
The lack of a quality spinner is a concern. The selection of Robin Peterson raised eyebrows in certain quarters. Peterson has had a distinctly average One Day International career so far but his lower order batting ability led to him being picked over a specialist spinner such as Paul Harris. On tracks that may suit spin bowling, this strategy may come back to haunt South Africa.
For all its depth and strength, the South African bowling attack is very 'one paced.' With the potentially slow and low nature of the tracks, a bowler that can bowl medium pace, wicket to wicket with numerous variations, could be very important. Players such as Ntini, Nel, Pollock and Langeveldt do not provide that variety. The lack of a Collingwood or Symonds type of bowler is a potential problem as there is a great deal of bowling depth but little variety. There is no real 'Plan B' for the South Africa bowling attack to fall back on if things are not going well.
There have been questions raised over squad selection, especially concerning the more peripheral roles. The exclusion of Boeta Dippenaar, a player that averages over 40 with the bat in ODI cricket, is inexcusable. Can a team win the World Cup if they do not select the best 15 players available?
Previous World Cups and South African Drama
1992 - Semi-Final (lost to England)
SA debuted in the first Technicolor World Cup and made an instant impression. The vision of Jonty Rhodes flying through the air to run-out Inzamam is an enduring memory of the 1992 World Cup
. However, an even more enduring memory is that of the farcical rain rule that revised the Proteas target following a rain delay from 22 of 13 balls, to win the Semi-final against England, to an impossible 21 required off 1 ball. This incident led many to criticize the current ruling of the time and got people thinking of different systems, including a certain Duckworth and Lewis.
1996 - Quarter-Final (lost to West Indies)
1999 - Semi-Finals (knocked out by Australia)
In possibly the most amazing game of One Day cricket ever played, South Africa were knocked out in the semi-final by Australia after the game ended in a tie. Australia progressed by virtue of a better run-rate in the Super-Six portion of the tournament. Needing one run to progress to the final with three balls left and one wicket in hand, Lance Klusener and Allan Donald panicked and managed to orchestrate a painful and dramatic runout in front of an open mouthed and disbelieving crowd. A tie resulted and South Africa was eliminated
2003 - First Round
On home soil, South Africa was one of the pre-tournament favourites. However, the traditional enemies of the rain and miscalculation came back to haunt them. Needing to win against Sri Lanka to progress to the Super Six stage, South Africa was batting in the rain. With one over to go before an expected rain interruption, South Africa consulted the necessary charts. South Africa reached the runs required to win the game, if the match was abandoned, by the 5th ball of the over. Not wanting to lose a wicket before the interruption, Mark Boucher defended the final ball of the over. As expected, the players then left the field and the game was abandoned. However, the charts the South Africans had studied were for a tie rather than a win and Boucher had defended the final ball when in reality South Africa needed 1 run for victory. Due to this tie, South Africa failed to progress to the Super Six and a nation again hung its head in World Cup disbelief.
On paper, this current South African team looks capable of dominating opponents and the World Cup. However, it isn't easy to forget the number of high profile failures and meltdowns they have experienced in past World Cups. Player for player they are experienced and talented enough to win the whole thing but they have not yet demonstrated the mental toughness vital to actually achieving it.
Cricket Web Prediction - 2nd. Close but further World Cup heartache for South Africa.
South Africa World Cup Squad
Graeme Smith (captain), Jacques Kallis, Loots Bosman, Mark Boucher (wicketkeeper), AB de Villiers, Herschelle Gibbs, Andrew Hall, Justin Kemp, Charl Langeveldt, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini, Robin Peterson, Shaun Pollock, Ashwell Prince, Roger Telemachus