When you think of South African cricket, one word springs to mind: “chokers”, a tag they have carried ever since that 1999 World Cup semi-final match against Australia, when Lance Klusener hit what should have been the winning runs, only for his partner, non-striker Allan Donald, to refuse to run, and Klusener just ran all the way back to the pavilion without even turning around.
Since then we’ve had such things as that Duckworth-Lewis calculation that led to then captain Shaun Pollock telling the players to not get out, rather than to hit the extra run they needed, causing them to miss out on the Super 6 stage in their own World Cup back in 2003.
They’ve also had the nasty habit of finding ways to lose at every knockout stage, even when they’ve been top of the table and expected to win the World Cup.
In 2015, though, they broke their curse by winning their knockout match, and making it all the way to the semi-final, before promptly losing, but hey at least they are no longer complete chokers.
It’s funny to see the squad without seeing A B de Villiers there, but he has retired and it is a new era, of sorts. Hashim Amla is still there, along with huge hitters like Quinton de Kock and David Miller. In fact, bar Rassie van der Dussen, Anrich Nortje and Tabraiz Shamsi, we still have 12 out of 15 players who are basically household names.
Dale Steyn is back, but he is no longer South Africa’s absolute best bowler, as Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi have probably surpassed him, while Imran Tahir is right up there too. Like New Zealand, this is a side who always seems to get their selections right, and, like New Zealand, they always seem to do better than anyone expects.
South Africa are 4th favourites, expected to just sneak into the semi-finals, and then to lose the match. Some think they will instead just miss out.
But countering that we know that South Africa usually dominate the group stages and we also know that they broke their hoodoo in the last tournament, and, now that they’ve made it past one knockout, the next step is to make it past two, which means winning the whole tournament. I had a lot of “haha” reactions when I suggested it but this is really possible here, especially as English conditions aren’t particularly foreign to South Africans.
Five Fearless Predictions:
(1) South Africa will make it to the semi-finals:
While it is certainly possible that they will just miss out, I am picking them to make it. While everyone is thinking of England and India as the real threats, South Africa might just sneak up on people.
(2) Quinton de Kock will be South Africa’s best player:
Big hitter, solid player, the best wicket keeper in the world, he has been phenomenal ever since his Under 19 days, when he was probably the best player in the Under 19 World Cup, and almost immediately afterwards made it to the South African senior team. That he replaced the great Mark Boucher almost immediately and bypassed A B de Villiers as a wicket keeping option is an incredible testimony to his powers. The absence of A B de Villiers means that he will be free to shine. He is not quite the same kind of player but he’s probably just as good – maybe even better. This is going to be his tournament.
(3) South Africa’s fast bowlers will be scary:
Dale Steyn alone was scary enough but now we’ve got Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi too, plus Imran Tahir? This is probably the best top 4 bowlers of any team in the world and they are going to terrify oppositions, especially in English conditions. They are capable of defending any target and destroying any batting line up.
(4) They are not going to choke:
I know it’s a bit of a meme but this time around, I promise, they won’t lose their semi-final match, nor will they fail to qualify. They didn’t choke in 2015, so that choking tag is gone. While a lot of people think that 2015 was a one-off, or they think that now they have New Zealand’s failure to make it past the semi-finals choking tag, I think that they no longer have any kind of choking tag.
(5) They are going to win the World Cup!:
It’s well and truly deserved, if you think about all they’ve achieved, from being the best side in the world when apartheid came in the 1960s through to consistently being one of the best sides since reintegration through to so much bad luck and choking, well, it’s more than a little overdue. It reminds me of Port Adelaide in the Australian Football League who kept finishing 1st and kept losing their finals matches, then one year they didn’t, and they won the whole thing. That’s South Africa this time around.
Prediction: Winners! (7-2 result)
Best opponents: Afghanistan, Bangladesh
Worst opponents: England, Australia