Will the new-gen Proteas be able to rise from the ruins and pull off a World Cup heist?
The Proteas from the land of Africa led by skipper Temba Bavuma have arrived on Indian soil to take part in the carnival of the 2023 Cricket World Cup. South Africa is currently the fourth-highest-ranked ODI side and is all set to make their ninth successive World Cup appearance.
However, the cricketing giants who are regarded as one of the finest ODI units in the world never managed to make it to the finals of the grandest stage of 50-over format. The Mzansi Greens had a suffering outcome in the previous World Cup edition where they failed to qualify for the knockout stages for the first time since the 2003 campaign at home.
Cricket South Africa announced their 15-member squad on the 5th of September consisting of only 2 players who were part of their semi-final venture of the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, Quinton de Kock and David Miller. Team SA concluded their preparations for the mega event with a thrilling 3-2 triumph over Australia despite losing the first two games of the home series.
Temba Bavuma ©, Aiden Markram, Reeza Hendricks, David Miller, Rassie van der Dussen, Quinton de Kock, Heinrich Klassen, Andile Phehlukwayo, Marco Jansen, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Gerald Coetzee, Lizaad Williams, Keshav Maharaj, Tabraiz Shamsi
Destructive Middle-Order: The main strength of this South African roster lies in the middle-order department which is stacked with high-profile names capable of winning matches from the worst circumstances. In their most recent triumph over the Aussies, Aiden Markram, David Miller, and Heinrich Klassen made it to the list of the series’ Top 7 run-scorers after a combined contribution of 43% (670 runs) in the team tally.
Markram who dons the No. 4 position is one of the mainstays in this lineup and provides solid balance to his team with his risk-free skills of keeping the run-flow. The Sunrisers Hyderabad skipper was recently adjudged with Player of the Series honor for heroics of fetching 225 runs from five innings at an astonishing average of 56.
One Mzansi batter who has made most global headlines is Klassen who becomes unstoppable when he gets going. The 32-year-old destructive keeper-batter gave us a glimpse of his World Cup plans in the fourth ODI against Australia where he smashed 174 off just 83 balls along 13 fours and 13 massive sixes.
Key players having familiarity with Indian conditions: The Indian Premier League has opened the gates for foreigners to adapt to the Indian conditions and over the years, South Africans have benefitted from this league the most. From Jacques Kallis, AB Devilliers, and Dale Steyn to Quinton de Kock and Kagiso Rabada, stars from different generations share the vast experience of playing on Indian pitches.
Miller is regarded as one of the greatest finishers in the Indian domestic league and has been part of every season since 2012. IPL is being credited for the resurrection of the 34-year-old veteran batter’s career as he marched the Gujarat Titans’ banner in the finals of the previous two editions.
de Kock is another experienced knight who is well acquainted with the Indian conditions and the opening batter has proven his calibre in the world’s toughest T20 league. Proteas will play their four league fixtures on three venues Mumbai, Delhi and Lucknow where QdK has enjoyed IPL home campaigns during his tenures with MI, DC, and LSG.
Weakened Bowling Attack: The South African bowling unit seemed promising during the squad announcement, however, a recent turn of events has turned it into a major worrying point for the team management. Just four days before their departure to India, gaffer Rob Walter confirmed that arch-pacers Anrich Nortje and Sisanda Magala were injured and have been replaced by Andile Phehlukwayo and Lizaad Williams in the squad.
The unavailability of Nortje owing to a lumbar stress fracture is a major blow to the Proteas’ hopes as the Delhi Capitals speedster once again failed to show up for his ODI World Cup debut. Mzansi Greens have promising fast-bowling options in the form of Marco Jansen and Gerald Coetzee however, Nortje’s fierce pace and Magala’s controlled line & length cannot be matched by these young faces.
Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi have been teaming up for the Proteas spin-attack for quite a time now but their efficiency on friendly Indian pitches is still under the scanner. During their last ODI battle with the Men in Blues, the spin-duo managed to put up a combined effort of only two wickets at the same time when Kuldeep Yadav topped the charts with 6 wickets alone.
Lack of All-rounders: Taking the nature of Indian pitches into consideration, it seems that this is going to be the World Cup of all-rounders. Hence all participating nations have included a hefty number of all-round options in their rosters in order to strengthen their contention for the prestigious trophy.
South Africa used to bolster their World Cup squad with many versatile names but missed the trick this time and it is likely to cost them big when their caravan moves toward tough fixtures.
Marco Jansen has recently showcased his power-hitting skills in death overs but the premier Proteas generalist holds the experience of playing only a single ODI match in India to date. Apart from Jansen, Andile Phehlukwayo who was not considered in the initial 15-member squad is currently the only other all-round option for Captain Bavuma.
Playing with the tag of Underdogs: Ever since their breakout at international cricket, Team Proteas has kick-started each and every ICC event as the tournament favorites. The Mzansi Greens never managed to live up to the expectations and landed up with the tag of ‘Chokers’ after unexpectedly losing crucial games from commanding positions especially the semi-final clashes of 1999 and 2015.
For the first time ever, South Africans are not stepping onto the CWC saga as favorites but as underdogs due to a recent dip in their dominion over world cricket. Unlike every other World Cup edition, there will be no pressure on them to perform up to their reputation which usually leads to a bottle-job in the knockouts.
A great opportunity for the new-gen SA stars to unleash their potential without the additional pressure of the world’s biggest cricketing stage while skipper Bavuma will also have the liberty to take courageous decisions. The lead Proteas pacer Kagiso Rabada also shared his joy stating that commencing the WC campaign as non-favorites will turn into blessings for the African outfit.
Reduced Squad Flexibility: South Africa is going to play their nine league games across eight different cities where playing conditions are unlikely to be identical. Many title contenders have pressured the squad flexibility factor to cope with the different natures of these Indian pitches and ground conditions. Venues like Dharamsala will require a strong fast-bowling unit while the spinners will be the key to success on mayhem pitches like Chennai and Lucknow.
Proteas are equipped with a star-studded playing XI but their backup options available on the bench may not be able to fill the voids if any of the key players suffers an injury fiasco. Playing nine successive ODI games within the span of 34 days requires a robust depth in the squad in order to be successful throughout the tournament.
The lack of flexibility and sustainability of the Mzansi roster creates a massive threat to their chances of gracing the champions’ podium for the first time.
Predicted Playing XI
Temba Bavuma ©, Quinton de Kock (wk), Rassie van der Dussen, Aiden Markram, Heinrich Klassen, David Miller, Marco Jansen, Andile Phelukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Tabraiz Shamsi