World Cup: It’s dull vs deadly

If you listen carefully you might just be able to hear the little hype that has been generated around the forthcoming cricket World Cup on our own shores.

Maybe it’s because the Indian Premier League ended only two weeks ago and there’s been insufficient time to kickstart momentum.

Perhaps the last cricket we saw the Proteas play was so uninspiring it ruined everyone’s appetite for more.

Or maybe you can’t expect anyone to be overly excited about watching it when no one is lining up to play in it.

Duanne Olivier had a good chance of being selected; AB de Villiers would have been the first name on the sheet. Neither thought it was worthwhile sticking around a little longer.

Olivier’s departure to county cricket was a sharp thorn at the tail end of a mundane summer of cricket. Even in their victories over Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the Proteas’ performances looked laboured and forced. That’s before we mention the shattering Test losses.

The bowling attack has retained its global primacy but it alone won’t be sufficient to win a World Cup. And that, arguably, is the biggest reason the anticipation has been damp.

South Africa are known to the cricketing world as perennial chokers. Every four years brings an opportunity to get that monkey off the country’s back. And every four years we manage to … well … choke.

On the bright side, there’s little danger of that this year. To choke, one needs to be touted in the first place.

It’s a new mindset that might just work out for the best. Playing with the pressure off, some argue, would be the greatest gift for the Proteas.

“There will be far less expectation placed on them for this year’s World Cup and I believe this will benefit the team and hopefully free the players up to reach their potential,” former Protea and World Cup winning coach Gary Kirsten told the Mumbai Mirror. “They are not the first professional sports team to experience this and will certainly not be the last.”

One team not lacking in expectation or fervour are first opponents England.

Crashing out of the group stages in 2015 after defeat to Bangladesh, captain Eoin Morgan faced the prospect of having to claw out of a locked basement to restore the team’s pride. He’s done just that. Brick by brick, England have built themselves into the best ODI team at present and forced their way on to number one on the ICC standings.

Morgan has done it while handling a rather naughty lot as well. Reserve batsman Alex Hales found himself kicked off the team for failing a second drugs test and all-rounder Ben Stokes almost suffered a similar fate after getting himself involved in a nightclub bust-up. Yet, thanks to some deft displays of leadership, the side has seemingly only grown closer through the controversies.

There’s also the matter of fast bowler Jofra Archer who has mesmerised the country. Arriving in the United Kingdom from Barbados after he turned 18, the 24-year-old ordinarily would have had to wait until 2022 before he played for the national team. They loved the look of him so much that qualification was slashed in half.

What England have done with Archer is not something that has gone down well internationally. Still, it’s hard not to feel a strand of admiration in their conviction.

What Morgan and his selectors have done is plot a four-year course and stuck to it rigorously. They’ve assembled a team that is widely feared and has a genuine chance of winning their first World Cup.

The Proteas have long been on the hunt for their first, but an overall lack of conviction has hovered over the squad for too long. It’s an infectious attitude and shows in our lack of enthusiasm for what should be a grand spectacle in a few days.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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