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Friday, Jan 28, 2022
Outlook.com
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South Africa

Go Amandla!

I can only see Australia as the one side who can measure up to our 10-15 per cent home ground advantage. They have the same consistency and this is where the World Cup will become a tougher game for us.

Go Amandla!
Go Amandla!
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

History, however, recorded otherwise. They failed twice to do enough against Australia in the most important stages of the tournament. In what former Australian captain Allan Border euphemistically refers to as sweaty palm cricket, South Africa’s tie at Edgbaston with Steve Waugh’s side was hailed as the greatest one-day game ever played. As there have been a few of those, we need to see just where among the ‘greatest’ this one fits. Probably among the top five.

Four years later, South Africa’s approach to their fourth World Cup—the first to be held in the continent—has, I know, created great interest among the public, some of whom are still stunned by that defeat at Leeds in 1999 and the tie.

There are those who have blamed Herschelle Gibbs for dropping Steve Waugh as the reason. On reflection, there is more to it than that. South Africa went in with probably the weakest attack they had during the tournament with Jacques Kallis out with a side strain. Cronje needed this remarkable all-rounder to bowl a few overs.

One of the great aspects of World Cup cricket is that people remember such mistakes: the Gibbs dropped catch; the Jonty Rhodes dive to run out Inzamam-ul-Haq in Brisbane in 1992. Then there is David Shepherd’s decision against Cronje in that remarkable Edgbaston game when Mark Waugh claimed the catch off Shane Warne’s bowling...it had come off the boot.

It is often argued that the 1999 side was the best one-day cricket side South Africa have ever had. It’s highly debatable. Often forgotten is the fact that when we first came back into world cricket under Kepler Wessels, we had a great side. At Sydney, we lost in the semi-final to England in the weird run/overs calculation then in operation. In 1999, it was a run-out incident of Lance Klusener and Allan Donald. As Cronje summed it up: "There are highs and lows in life. Today we just happened to be on the wrong side, that’s all."

Since the season started back in August when new national selection convenor Omar Henry announced the squad for the Morocco Cup, the guessing game of who would make the final squad of 15 had become an intriguing one. There was some criticism of the 15 which went to Colombo in September for the International Cricket Council Champion’s trophy. The bowling attack was unbalanced with too much reliance on captain Shaun Pollock. Donald was easing his way into the game, as was Kallis and Nicky Boje. It was largely experimental as the selectors moved their musical chairs around to see who would, or could, fit in any given situation.

What we now have is about as right as the selection is going to get. There are those in Cape Town who have bellyached about Graeme Smith missing out. But he is not the only one. Neil McKenzie is another, swing bowler David Terbrugge and veteran Steve Elworthy as well as the brilliant young left-hand talent of Jacques Rudolph. So yes, the selectors have come up with a squad which suits their World Cup planning as much as did Peter Pollock’s panel in 1999. What is different is that we have eight players from 1999 back again and to me that is a most significant figure; you cannot beat hardcore experience. And there are a couple of new hard nuts in Andrew Hall and Makhaya Ntini who are going to make other sides sweat a little more.

Gary Kirsten was out of favour in Colombo, but his experience and technique was needed when Smith failed to measure up to the tough demands, the skills needed at this level. With Gibbs as Kirsten’s partner, South Africa now have a solid opening pair. Whether Boeta Dippenaar is right at three is another matter, for after that comes Kallis, now at four because of his workload.

With names such as Daryll Cullinan and McKenzie missing, there is a new middle-order. What I want to know here is whether those batting at five and six are going to measure up to the demands and have the skills needed to handle the pressure of a World Cup final.

Just who fits into this new middle-order and where is going to be very important. Fortunately, playing at home will give us a 10-15 per cent advantage over most teams. I would suggest that with the margin of error being what it is in one-day games, playing at home means that the per cent advantage I have already mentioned should help Polly and the boys. For this reason, pre-tournament preparation is so important.

I feel that as we have a far better record at home than the other sides, there is no reason why we shouldn’t go all the way. Of course, we cannot dismiss other sides and their various strengths, but you cannot ignore records either. Sure, there are some tough preliminary games, drawn as we are in Pool B with teams like the West Indies, New Zealand and Sri Lanka presenting stiff challenges. But I see no problem here.

That first game is going to be a tough one. The West Indies are always hard and they have started to improve at the right time. Yet, statistically, South Africa will have the advantage here. Too much emphasis needn’t be placed on this game. South Africa have learnt from its mistakes. To my mind, we are already better than those sides and looking at the opposition beyond the first round, I can only see Australia as the one side who can measure up to our 10-15 per cent home ground advantage. They have the same consistency and this is where the World Cup will become a tougher game for us.

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