No expectations on the Proteas may just be what they need

Every four years, we wonder if it is finally the year of the South African cricket side. They reached a semifinal back in the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, teasing the nation with sporting happiness, for the first time since Bafana Bafana scored the opening goal in the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

Now, the Proteas return with less expectation than ever, but do they come with more electricity than they did in 2015? Then, the team made it to the semi-final at Eden Park in Auckland. New Zealand won the match by Duckworth Lewis, with a six smashed off Dale Steyn, South Africa’s best bowler, on the last ball.

That tournament’s Protea team might have been weighed down by the expectations of a nation that was taken by such a good squad. Captained by AB de Villiers, who scored 482 runs and ended up third in the competition for most runs, the Proteas came in with a leader who was going to set an example every time he stepped onto the pitch.

However, de Villiers will not feature this time around: he announced a shock retirement from international cricket in 2018.

Taking over from him is a cricketer who has the opportunity to grow from 2015. Faf du Plessis scored 380 runs in that campaign, and he played several mature innings throughout the tournament. Cool and composed, the skipper will look to rub off on the nine newcomers to the Proteas team for this World Cup.

Hashim Amla, part of both the 2015 and 2019 World Cup squads, has a point to prove in this tournament after a poor run of form left him on the cusp of exclusion from the 15-men squad.

In 2015, Amla struck 333 runs at the tournament and, alongside fellow opener Quinton de Kock, helped to create solid platforms for the team. They got mammoth scores of over 300 on every occasion that they batted first in the group phase.

JP Duminy and David Miller make up the middle order of the batting line up for the Proteas, with the former looking to make his experience count after appearing in both the 2011 and 2015 World Cups. Miller was impressive back in 2015, providing brilliant little cameos that propelled batting totals past 400 on two separate occasions

The excitement in this World Cup, hosted in England, will once again reside with the batsmen. Dry and fast surfaces will make it really easy for the ball to fly off the bat and outfields will be very quick, which means that high batting scorecards are expected. However, bowlers can use these conditions to steal headlines depending on how well they can restrict their opponents to lower totals.

South Africa’s bowling attack may just be where they hold an edge. Spin bowler Imran Tahir ranks fourth in the ICC ODI bowling rankings coming into the tournament, while the new face of the Proteas, Kagiso Rabada ranks fifth. Making his world debut, his fitness to play is still a doubt.

Rabada and Tahir were also the top wicket takers in this season’s Indian Premier League.

However, there is more to the bowling attack as Dale Steyn, who can bowl through any batsman on his day, and Andile Phehlukwayo, also rank among the top 20 bowlers in the world.

With just six of the 15 players from 2015 remaining in the squad and showing promise — apart from one abysmal test series against Sri Lanka at the beginning of 2019 — it seems that the Proteas are going into this World Cup with aplomb.

Former batsman Jacques Kallis has tagged the side as the “dark horses” of the tournament.

The Proteas’ ODI form has been efficient and consistent, having won their last three ODI series, whitewashing Sri Lanka 5-0 and edging past Pakistan and Australia in the previous two.

While they come into this World Cup ranked third in the world, behind India and Thursday’s opponents England and one place worse off than they were in 2015, the team does have the advantage of having little in the way of expectations, from their fans at least.

When the first ball is bowled at The Oval on Thursday, whether South Africa deliver it or whether they are facing it, they would need to have blocked out the “choker cloud” which has hung over their heads for way too long.

Instead, it’s time for the team to adopt the title of “dark horses”.

Eyaaz Matwadia
Eyaaz Matwadia
Eyaaz Matwadia is a member of the Mail & Guardian's online team.
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