Sunday, March 04, 2007

World Cup Series -- Team South Africa

The proteas have been the "So close yet so far" team for a long time that it is time for them to prove their mettle at the largest showdown in world cricket. Will this team of great talent do what it has not been able to do after coming back to the league in 1992? Will it prove the maxim "The team with the best fielding side wins the world cup" true? Did the coaching talent of Jonty Rhodes help the proteas to go to the next level in fielding? Has the team "exorcised" the ghosts of their 1999 semifinal tie? With the record 436 run chase behind them, I feel that the Proteas have come a long way. With a bit of luck on their side, this South African team has got what is needed for holding aloft the world cup.

1) Meticulously planned approach to the game
2) Fielding
3) An excellent team

1) The "Ghost" of their previous world cup losses
2) Lack of spin bowling options
3) An inherent inability to adapt to hitherto unseen situations

Position after Super 8 stage:

The squad:
Graeme Smith(Captain), Loots Bosman, Mark Boucher, AB de Villiers, Herschelle Gibbs, Andrew Hall, Jacques Kallis, Justin Kemp, Charl Langeveldt, Andre Nel, Makhaya Ntini, Robin Peterson, Shaun Pollock, Ashwell Prince, Roger Telemachus

Expert Speaks: Vamsi's Take

World Number 1!

Hail the new kings of ODI cricket! SA have finally dethroned the Aussies from their number one ranking that they held close to 9 years, and though they weren't the team to give them the shove, they certainly were the team to start the process. The match that was dubbed to be the greatest ever ODI ever played (SA chasing down the Oz's 434) gave a lot of teams the kind of push that they needed to show that the Aussies are fallible as the rest. Some might claim that this particular match might be a blip on the radar, but looking at the SA's performance in ODIs prior to that series and over the past 24 months, they have come a long way to prove their consistency. They whitewashed the Windies in WI, drew the ODI series in India, gave India and NZ a horrible drubbing at home and gave Srilanka a jolt in Srilanka. The only blip in this rejuvenation period was to miss out on the finals berth against SL and Aus in the VB series, but that has happened to the best of teams during their tour Down Under.

Now come the interesting facts about South African cricket. Ever since one can remember, a team of their potential and track record has always been plagued by their ill-luck and their inability to cash in during crucial encounters. Other than a sublime victory over India at Sharjah or winning the ICC knockout trophy in 1998, SA have been known to collapse in multi-nation tournaments except at home. At home though, their record has been sublime. They have given the best of teams a whack in the back in ODIs except ofcourse at the world cup. And coming to world cups, they have a whole different story to tell. Every cricketing fan across the globe remembers the memorable rain-affected clash between England and SA, where the equation of 22 runs remained the same but the balls began shrinking by every rain drop falling on the Sydney Cricket Ground. If it were Gods having fun with the Proteas in 1992, it was a determined and fiery West Indian, who wanted to prove a point or two, took it to them after being in a racial taunt in 1996. Till that point, the West Indies hadn't done anything significant in that world cup, but went on to drown SA with a big score. This by far was the only reasonable and decent exit for the South Africans in world cup cricket. World cup 1999 brought to fore the name that was synonymous with SA cricket for quite sometime to come. 'Zulu' took it upon himself to see SA all the way from the inaugural game against India to the semi-final stage and almost got them through except ofcourse for a mis-judgement in a run with Donald which cost the world cup final berth. What followed next was history, but it would be interesting to notice that SA was by far the only semi-finalist who were able to defeat Pakistan in the league stage, thanks again to Lance Klusener. And then came the curse of the hosts in 2003. SA were well on track to get to Super-six, but then having thought that they had achieved the target they needed against Sri Lanka, Boucher decided to defend the last ball in the rain-affected match - that was by far the heights of mis-communication that can be ever recorded in a one-day game. These near misses might associate this team with 'the chokers' tag, but then are they equipped to finish in style this time around?

In batting, they have the swashbuckling captain to lead them from the front followed by Gibbs, Kallis, Prince, De Villiers and Kemp, everyone of whom is matchwinner in his own right. Then come the reliable Boucher and Shaun Pollock. And if you think the batting ends there, you are in for another surprise. Their recent find Andrew Hall has been playing the ball with the willow of a tail-ender but with the mind of a middle-order batsman. And then, their depth in batting goes all the way till number 9, which gives them enough buffer to pull themselves out of a hole if they find themselves in one. All they need is one top-order batsman to bat through and they will always find support from the tail to bat through the 50 overs. The only fallible point in their batting is their inability to adapt on a spin track against a quality spin team.

Teams like Pakistan, Australia and South Africa have always had reserves in digging up their fast bowlers from all corners of the country and not the itsy-bitsy Venkatesh Prasads and Debashish Mohantys of the Indian team, but genuine quality fast bowlers that can strangle the opposition. They can definetely boast of a quality bowling line up with Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini to lead the pack and Andrew Nel, Jacques Kallis and Andrew Hall to fill in the rest of the overs. The only department that is weak is in spin with the captain providing some part-time off-spin option and Botha coming into play on spin tracks.

And then comes the whole new dimension of modern day cricket, the fielding. This dimension is new in the sense, in prior days, Cricket, the Gentleman's game, was played like one. There would be no indication of dirt or mud on your outfit and throwing yourself around on the field to save a run was not necessary as your favors are bound to be returned by the opposition. Then came in SA in 1991 and along with them came Jonty Rhodes. From that year forth, the department of fielding has never been the same. It was these South Africans who took the concept of fielding to a whole new level and their standards still remain the same. Jonty Rhodes may be long gone into retirement, but his commitment to cricket has brought him back as their fielding coach and that has done the team more good. Any given South African team can easily outscore the opposition by atleast 20-30 runs in fielding alone, which is a great bonus in modern cricket.

This team, like all other South African World cup squads, has the capability to take home the cup, but the closest they have been to the cup is the semi-finals in 1992 and 1999. If they are able to stick to their plans and most importantly, if they are "lucky" this time around, they just might do it. It has been too many near misses to miss out on the ultimate cricketing glory.


Howard Roark said...

I know that I shouldn't be posting the first comment on my blog but couldn't help it.

South Africa has always been my favorite team right from the days they came with a clean chit from their Apartheid days. They are a consistent bunch with no airs like that of the Aussies. An ideal final for me would be that of SA (vs) India. The result would cease to matter in that case :-)

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