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World Cup Predictions: Can South Africa finally break the curse?

A look at South Africa's chances in the upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup.

SENIOR ANALYST
Feature 28 Jan 2015, 20:49 IST
2.34K
AB De Villiers
Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers

Introduction

On 2nd April 2011, a fleet of ships that had sailed to subcontinental shores bid goodbye to the land of dreams after the home side proved to be too good against umpteen worthy contenders.

Come 14th Feb 2015, the same warriors travel down under, more learned, more experienced, more hardened and more thirsty.

Cricket, for some, is a matter of life and death.

The World Cup groups were drawn as per the ICC ODI rankings as on 31st December 2012.

Let us have a look at these:

Pool A Pool B
England (1) South Africa (2)
Australia (4) India (3)
Sri Lanka (5) Pakistan (6)
Bangladesh (8) West Indies (7)
New Zealand (9) Zimbabwe (10)
Afghanistan Ireland
Scotland UAE

A glance at the pools is enough to understand how they are placed. Seed (1) gets into Pool A, Seeds (2) & (3) get into Pool B, (4) & (5) into Pool A again and so on. Surprisingly, even more so on the back of recent performances, Bangladesh are seeded above New Zealand and the World Cup would have been wide open had Bangladesh been at (7) and New Zealand at (8) for it would have meant 5 teams from the ‘Top 8’ in the same group. 

(8) and (9) made sure this was not the case and we expect to see the ‘Top 8’ in the knockouts without any hullaballoo. The (7) & (8) situation could be best defined as a nightmare for the teams playing and heaven for the cricket viewer.

Whether this is the correct format or not to establish a world champion remains in question, the standings after the group stages would most likely resemble this:

(There have been upsets in World Cup over the years, but Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Scotland, Zimbabwe, Ireland and UAE don't seem possess the firepower required to upset the big guns down under)

Pool A Pool B
Australia South Africa
New Zealand India
Sri Lanka Pakistan
England West Indies

The quarter finals hence should look this way: Australia vs West Indies at Adelaide – New Zealand vs Pakistan at Wellington – Sri Lanka vs India at the SCG/MCG – England vs South Africa at the SCG/MCG.

The way the current format stands, if New Zealand qualify for the quarterfinals, they play their match in Wellington. If the Australians do so, they get to play at Adelaide. If both of them qualify for the semis, New Zealand get to play at Auckland and Australia at the SCG.

If both are pitted against each other (not as per the predictions), the team who finished higher in Pool A will get the option of playing at home. This effectively means if New Zealand make it to semifinals, teams not facing the Kiwis will have all their matches in Australia.

Today, we look at the South Africans, one of the strongest contenders for this year's event, like all others.

Fun Fact

The South Africans made their World Cup debut in 1992, surprisingly as favourites to win the title. Since that day, till today, they have never won a knockout tournament in the World Cup.

Having said that, let us begin to talk about the most exciting team this World Cup.

Squad: AB de Villiers (capt), Hashim Amla (vice-capt), Kyle Abbott, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Aaron Phangiso, Vernon Philander, Rilee Rossouw, Dale Steyn.

Notable Exclusions: Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Ryan Mclaren

Strengths

The ultimate team spirit

Teammates from all over the world claim they enjoy each other’s success. None of them seem as convincing in doing so as much as the South Africans though. When players like AB de Villiers or Dale Steyn who are not only are widely accepted to be the best in the world at what they do, but also have a huge fan following, are so polite, down to earth and thorough team players, one can understand how pleasant the atmosphere is inside the dressing room. Ask Quinton de Kock.

De Villiers scored at a brisk pace to deny Faf du Plessis a record 4th century in the recently concluded Zimbabwe series. Faf was least bothered and stressed how important the victory was for the team as a whole. And rightly so, the Africans had the chance to get to a final after a decade, something that would do their confidence as a team a world of good. It would have erupted as a huge controversy in a country like India, but the South African papers did not even mention it, let alone whine about it.

Those poor souls who tried to made a meal out of this were rushing for places to hide their heads when de Villiers attempted to hit a 6 when on 149. Had he taken a single, it would certainly have created a record never to be broken. Some players and all South Africans play with the sole intention of winning the game which is why players get out in the nervous 90s.

When Steyn plays a prank on a player who is barely of voting age yet, you get the feeling of a team who enjoy being around each other, a team that is filled with superstars but act like mortals.

Two of the best

Even if we brush aside Hashim Amla for a second, the men from South Africa have in their team the best bowler of this era in Steyn. Yes, Steyn is not only the best fast bowler in the world currently, he is also the best bowler, pace or spin to play in the current generation. And then you have de Villiers, by far the most complete batsman in the history of the game.

Dale Steyn
Dale Steyn

These are two players who are capable of winning you a World Cup on their own, and if they are anywhere near their best, no team can manage to come close. And in Amla they have the patience and the cool head badly needed by a team known to ‘choke’ at crucial moments.

Fun fact

The Protea flower, named after a Greek God needs Fire to bloom and flourish, hence the hashtag #proteafire

Weaknesses

The mental block

Chokers, chokers, chokers.

The word South African players have heard so much about that they must hate it more than anything else. But what is this all about? Is it the inability to play well in pressure situations? Or experience? Or maybe just a mental block? To win a cup, they need to win three consecutive knockout matches, but the most difficult of those will be the first one. Can they do it once? Twice? Thrice?

The Number 7 conundrum

Duminy cannot assume the role of a complete all-rounder in the current World up conditions. This means the team has to look at Wayne Parnell for the all-rounder spot, but he is nowhere near his predecessor Jacques Kallis. For years, the Africans were playing cricket with 12 players against 11, they no longer have that luxury now. At times, the South African batting line-up does not look too deep, and one top order collapse may spell doom for their dreams.

Lack of depth

Apart from a packed First XI, the rest of the players do not instill complete confidence, which is why if any of the top 6 are unfit it will dent South Africa’s World Cup chances very severely.

Threats and Worst Case Scenario

The Proteas simply have to make sure they don’t hand matches on a platter to their opponents. But that is not all, the Africans should also strive to win from those seemingly lost positions as well. Simply not choking is not the solution, but to make other teams choke is. Once you turn your weakness into your strengths, no target is out of bounds.

That the Saffas will steamroll into the group stages is a given and something no one will argue about. The first quarterfinal will be the make or break match for them at the World Cup. Topping the group might mean they will be up against England, one of the easier sides to beat currently. If they can get through the first game, the second and third knockouts will be way easier for them mentally. Else, we might see the ‘shame’ old story repeating itself.

Opportunities

There is no better time to quote captain de Villiers: “I think it's gotten a little bit better over there (Zimbabwe) and it's not the basics, it's turning games around, doing special stuff that I see other teams do. I don't believe we are in the top two fielding teams in the world and you need that in a World Cup."

That is quite a lot, coming from one of the best fielders in the world. But the statement shows a never-say-die attitude, something they desperately need in the World Cup.

They have a fairly favourable draw coming to the finals. They will most probably face England and New Zealand (or Pakistan at most), teams they will beat more often than not in general conditions. Small grounds and fast, swinging pitches, New Zealand is more of a home to the Africas than the Kiwi’s if they cross paths in the Semi;s.

Needless to add, these conditions and surfaces suit them far more than the sub-continent ones. Also adding to their advantage is they toured New Zealand and Australia very recently, which provided them with invaluable match practice in World Cup conditions.

The Last Stand

De Villiers is 31, Amla is close to 32, Duminy is 31, Du Plessis is 30, Tahir is 35, Behardien is 31, Morkel is 30, Phangiso is 31, Philander is almost 30 and Steyn is close to 32. Out of 15, 10 of the players are over 30. Tahir aside, most of these are between 30-32.

One way to look at it is that they have a really old side. Another way to look at it is that they have one of the most experienced groups going into the World Cup. To be fair to the Proteas, their age hardly slows them down and they remain one of the best fielding teams in the world.

However, what is arguably South Africa’s greatest generation is in its last leg. If they do not win the Cup this time around, the boys will be too old come 2019. Whether this serves as motivation or choking fodder remains to be seen.

Final Verdict: South Africa win the trophy for the first time and for years to come, 2015 will always be billed as de Villiers’s World Cup.

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