When Mike Procter, the former great South African all-rounder, took over as convener of the country’s selectors last year he faced up to an uncomfortable truth.
For all their success on the cricket fields of the world South Africa haven’t won a major international tournament in more than a decade.
The World Twenty20 in England provides another opportunity to end the drought.
The offices of Cricket South Africa have cabinets gleaming with trophies from successful bilateral series and several triangular or quadrangular tournaments.
But the only International Cricket Council honour remains the ICC Knockout trophy, now known as the ICC Champions Trophy, which South Africa won in Bangladesh in 1998.
”We’ve been number one in the one-day game, close to number one in the Test arena and it’s a bit frustrating that we haven’t got any silverware,” said Procter.
”So we’re taking the World Twenty20 very seriously. It’s a World Cup and we want to win it.”
Planning for the tournament began in earnest when South Africa picked a 15-man squad for two Twenty20 internationals against Australia in March.
All 15 men played in at least one game but for Procter it was equally important that the players, including some experimental selections, spent time with national coach Mickey Arthur and captain Graeme Smith in a squad environment, ”so it won’t be a judgement just on a particular game”.
Thirteen of that squad will be in England, including two of the relative unknowns who were tried against Australia, left-arm pace bowler Yusuf Abdulla and slow bowling all-rounder Roelof van der Merwe.
The core of the side, though, have a wealth of experience and most of the key players had successful campaigns in the recent Indian Premier League, including veteran all-rounder Jacques
Kallis, whose Royal Challengers Bangalore team reached the final.
Kallis won a Twenty20 recall after being controversially left out of the side that played in the inaugural world event in South Africa in 2007.
The history of South Africa in world events is one of
near-misses, none more heart-breaking than their tied match against Australia in the 1999 World Cup semi-final in England which eliminated the tournament favourites on run rate.
Another tied game, against Sri Lanka in the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, meant elimination at the group stage, again on run rate.
In the first World Twenty20, South Africa won four out of five matches but their single loss, against eventual champions India, condemned them to yet another run rate dismissal after India, New Zealand and the Proteas finished in a triple tie on points in their Super Eight group.
With quick-scoring batsmen like Smith, Herschelle Gibbs, AB de Villiers and JP Duminy, and hard-hitting all-rounders in Albie Morkel, wicketkeeper Mark Boucher and Van der Merwe, agile fielders and some capable bowlers, coach Arthur is confident South Africa have a team well-equipped to succeed.
”Whether the conditions suit pace or slow bowling, I believe we can field a team with seven possible bowlers and batting down to number ten,” said Arthur.
But as hosts and close-up witnesses of the extravagances of the Indian Premier League, South Africa are painfully aware of the unpredictability of Twenty20 cricket where one bad over can cost a
team its chance of glory. – AFP