Karachi 1996, Edgbaston 1999, Durban 2003, St, Lucia 2007, Dhaka 2011. The list of South African ‘chokes’ in the Cricket World Cup seems never ending. Not to mention the collapse in the World t20 against India on home turf in 2007, when they only had to avoid getting thrashed to go through.
Edgbaston and Durban have provided two of the most iconic moments in Cricket World Cup history and the ‘choker’ tag is one that is increasingly applied to the Proteas as they continually flop on the big stage.
Over the years their talent cannot be denied. They have had a number of greats play for them; had decent performances outside world cups leading to only more ‘false hope’; and put themselves in great positions to succeed in all of the aforementioned examples.
Yet when the pressure has been at its greatest, time and time again they have failed to complete the job and have often managed to drag defeat from the jaws of victory. All that being said, if there is ever a time or world cup for them to shed that tag, this one is surely it.
First and perhaps most importantly, this team have shown their mental strength numerous times in the test arena during their time at the top of the rankings. Epic rearguards in Australia and Sri Lanka, famous fourth innings chases in 2008 in both Australia and England.
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Yes, these chases may seem a long time ago, but they contribute to the significant amount of evidence where this group of players, the core of which has changed little since then, have shown their mental toughness on the last day of crucial test matches.
their batting lineup is full of explosive talent in JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis and David Miller
Therefore, come the pressure moment in this coming World Cup, this South African team should be able to draw on positive memories of performing under great scrutiny, and not just have the media constantly reminding them of their predecessors failures.
This core group of players I am referring to is another key reason why this South African team is ready for success in Australia and New Zealand this winter. South Africa quite simply have some all-time greats in their team, and overall their side is the best balanced of the big eight nations.
Dale Steyn, AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla would all make a World XI side and when they hang up their boots, will have records that stack up against the very best. Winning world cups requires great performances from great players and if these three fire, which happens on a regular basis, then it is hard to see them being beaten.
In addition, their batting lineup is full of explosive talent in JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis and David Miller, not to mention their relatively new opener and keeper, Quinton de Kock, the joint fastest man to 1000 ODI runs.
In terms of the bowling, it appears they have all fronts covered, with Steyn able to swing it at pace, Philander able to seam it and Morkel adding pace and bounce. To complement this, South Africa have a genuine international class leg spinner in Imran Tahir who is capable of picking up those key wickets in the middle overs.
Perhaps their one weakness is their fifth bowler, which at the moment appears to be a combination of Duminy’s offspin and Ryan McLaren’s medium pace. Both of these seem susceptible to being hit for big overs, especially on the true tracks of Australia and small grounds of New Zealand, yet this is a problem for most international sides given the lack of genuine all rounders.
Indeed, MS Dhoni has regularly used part time bowlers to fill in overs for India and if brought into the attack at the right time, can sneak through their ten overs with minimal damage.
A further factor in the Protea’s favour is the location of the World Cup. Given their seam heavy attack, and how their batsmen tend to deal with pace better than spin, a World Cup in non-sub continental conditions on pitches that in Australia at least will have some pace and bounce suits the style of their team.
They are clearly a confident side, used to winning, and have played some great one day cricket over the past year. Their cause is helped by the weakness and/or internal disarray of certain international sides at the moment and a loss to anyone bar India or Australia would be a major shock.
Team planning has also been second to none, with one day series in both New Zealand and Australia in the near future giving them the chance to assess what conditions may be like come the World Cup.
The Protea Fire campaign, whilst perhaps a bit gimmicky to some, does indicate the strong bond in the dressing form, helped of course by that core of players being ever-presents, and the aim to get the public buying into the concept and backing the team as they go to the World Cup can surely only help.
it is almost impossible to determine whether this will finally be the time they can answer their critics
Yet, for all these positives that seemingly give South Africa a better chance than ever to finally claim that elusive first World Cup, the crux of the issue, that ‘chokers’ tag and the previous history of crumbling under pressure that comes with it, can only truly be put to bed in the knockout stages of the World Cup.
South Africa have often entered the tournament as one of the teams tipped to go all the way, so given the nature of the ‘chokes’ in the past, and the fact key players in this team have been part of some of those previous experiences, it is almost impossible to determine whether this will finally be the time they can answer their critics and lay their ghosts to rest. One thing is for sure though; they may never get a better chance.