South Africa played their first World Cup in 1992 and were denied their shot at making history courtesy a mix of weather and the vagaries of a rain rule that defied all logic. This unfortunate moment has though hounded South Africa in subsequent World Cups, especially in knockout matches. The Proteas enter World Cups as one of the leading contenders, but fall by the wayside when the knockout matches come calling.
The ‘chokers’ tag has been associated with South Africa for far too long and the 2015 World Cup gives South African cricketers yet another opportunity to rid themselves of this none-too-charitable tag and take that much-awaited and anticipated step towards cricketing glory.
South Africa may be ranked No. 3 in One Day Internationals, but they have been in phenomenal form over the past year with their only blip being the 1-4 series loss to Australia three months ago. That apart, the Proteas have won ODI series against India, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and the West Indies, as well as taking a tri-series competition involving Australia and Zimbabwe.
South Africa have been fortunate to have world-class players in their ranks over the years, but the squad that has been selected for the 2015 World Cup, is a combination of youth and experience, and has all bases covered with hardly any weak links in the team, though the lack of a genuine all-rounder could well be some cause of concern, especially if one of the front-line bowlers has an off day.
But, in Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock, South Africa have one of the most reliable opening partnerships in world cricket. The youngster attacks from the get-go, while the experienced and classy Amla, makes his mark in a quiet and efficient manner that leaves the opposition reeling and the scoreboard moving at a fair clip. Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Rilee Rossouw, David Miller, and last but not the least, AB de Villiers round off a formidable batting line-up. The shining jewel in this array of batting talent is undoubtedly De Villiers; South Africa’s captain is a tricky and cheeky batsman, who, while technically correct and strong all around the wicket, isn’t afraid to innovate and manufacture shots that are tough to pull off for other talented batsmen in the game. He recently scored the fastest ever hundred in ODIs - in only 31 balls - and his is a wicket that will be one of the most coveted in the tournament.
The trio of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander form a formidable bowling attack, and South Africa can also rely on Kyle Abbott and Wayne Parnell to contribute when called upon. Imran Tahir is one of the best spinners in the shorter formats and lends much-needed variety to South Africa’s bowling attack, and Aaron Phangiso can be called upon when needed.
One of South Africa’s strengths through the years has been their fielding, and this squad is no exception, and possesses outstanding players who run like deer and pounce like leopards, as they make run-scoring a difficult task for opposition batsmen.
De Villiers leads an exceptional group of players and the integral features of the squad are maturity, respect throughout the team and the fact that they play hard for and enjoy each other’s success.
With an all-round squad at their disposal, South Africa shouldn’t face any major problems in the group stage and will be fancied to top the table after the first stage. The other teams in Pool B are India, Pakistan, West Indies, Zimbabwe, Ireland and United Arab Emirates; and South Africa are likely to be tested only in two of these matches. The challenge for South Africa’s players will be to maintain their confidence in the knock-out matches, for this has been the bane of the Proteas.
De Villiers recently said the key for South Africa in the World Cup would be to stay in the moment and not to over-hype the nature and occasion of the sport’s marquee tournament.
"It's just another tournament. It's an important tournament, but it's just another tournament. That's probably the biggest lesson that I've learnt," he said. "We also feel comfortable knowing that if we play good cricket, and if we dominate the games that we should dominate, then we've got a very good chance to make it to the quarter-finals."
The stage is set for this outstanding group of cricketers to do a first for South Africa and take the World Cup home. They have the ability and the talent, but need to back themselves and not be weighed down by the burden of history. South Africa, can be rest assured, they will be popular winners, if De Villiers lifts the trophy on March 29 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.