The Proteas have a reputation of dropping the ball at the final moment. The team hope to make important changes as they prepare for the Cricket World Cup.
South Africa’s search for what is becoming their ‘Holy Grail’ will continue in May when they contest the Cricket World Cup that is to be played in England and Wales, providing another shot at a trophy that has frustratingly eluded them in the past.
The Proteas have entered World Cup tournaments as heavy favorites in the past, indisputably the best team on the planet at the time, yet found unusual ways to be eliminated, leading to the tag of ‘chokers’ that has haunted the team for two decades now.
In 1999, they got themselves into a winning position against Australia in their semi-final, yet gave up their final wicket to a crazy run-out needing just a single run for victory.
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Four years later, on home soil, they misread the Duckworth-Lewis par score after rain in a pool match against Sri Lanka and did not realize they needed one more run than they had.
In 2007, they folded in the West Indies when too many of their top players could not find form, while four years ago, they gave up a commanding position to lose a semifinal to New Zealand, made all the more galling as South African-born Grant Elliott proved the match-winner for the Kiwis.
The failures of the side have almost become part of cricket folklore, with opposing fans delighting in throwing the choker tag at South Africa at every opportunity.
So what chance of a change in 2019? It is the first time in perhaps 27 years that South Africa do not go in as one of the genuine pre-tournament favorites, with England and India many people’s top tips, and with good reason as both have been outstanding in 50-over cricket of late.
An evolving South Africa could have as many as 10 players in their 15-man squad who have never been to the World Cup before, and while that lack of experience could be a hindrance, it could also be a help in that they will not carry the ‘baggage’ of past failure.
Captain Faf du Plessis will go to his third tournament and he knows what to expect in terms of media and fan pressure over past failures on his players.
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“As soon as you get to the tournament, you get to hear about it,” Du Plessis tells FORBES AFRICA.
“When you chat to the media that is all people want to talk about, when you play against opposition, they will bring it up.
“For me now, it is about making players aware of it and giving them ways to deal with it, to mentally preparing for it, so that when we do get to England, it is not a surprise.”
Du Plessis believes that managing key moments in games better than they have in the past is the key to success, as well as making sure the players stick to their game-plans and don’t try to be ‘supermen’.
“For the last year or so we have been dealing with different aspects of that. Hopefully, when we get there, we will manage those situations better than we have previously.
“We have played some really good cricket at tournaments in the past, but we have always had little moments in the game where pressure got the better of us.
“How do you fix that? How do you deal with it? How do you cope in those moments?
“I hope that by talking to players, by giving them a ‘how’ of dealing with those moments, they will handle them better than we have in the past.”
The make-up of the South African side has been the subject of much debate, but the picture is clear for Du Plessis – if everybody is fit. Three fast-bowlers, a spinner and seven batsmen, which includes an all-rounder, is the preferred make-up, with the swinging ball likely to dominate the bat.
When all are available, the South African side generally picks itself, but the return of fast bowler Lungi Ngidi from injury is key.
“If you have a very good bowling attack that can get wickets, then you put yourself there or thereabouts,” Du Plessis says.
“India have got a really good bowling attack at the moment and are bowling teams out constantly.
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“If we have a full-strength team, we also have a very good bowling attack. We have missed Lungi recently. I feel that if you have Lungi, Dale [Steyn] and KG [Kagiso Rabada] together, it makes our bowling attack a lot stronger.
“They are all wicket-takers and that is what winning in white ball cricket is about.”
With Andile Phehlukwayo having moved ahead in the race for the all-rounder spot and JP Duminy likely to return from injury in time for the tournament, giving a -part-time spin option, South Africa’s first choice side looks strong.
But do Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla, Reeza Hendricks, Du Plessis, Duminy, David Miller, Phehlukwayo, Rabada, Steyn, Ngidi and Imran Tahir have the look of world champions? Time will tell.
The Proteas open their campaign against England at The Oval on May 30, with all 10 teams playing each in a round-robin format. The top four sides then advance to the semi-finals, with the decider to be played on July 14.