South Africa
source: Marco Jansen and Miller (Getty images), Rabada (Wisden), Klaasen (India Today)

The story of South Africa and the Cricket World Cup be it in ODIs or T20Is is one of what could have been!

Truth be told, it’s the perfect build up to a love saga where all seems rosy at first but unfortunately as the climax unfolds the lovers are never together.

Perhaps the quandary of the everyday commoner in the Mzansi has been etched in misery for far too long and hope just seems a distant feeling. Well there is enough reason for this as its been over three decades that South Africa has failed to conquer the final mile, ever since they were readmitted into the international cricketing fold and contested their first ODI World Cup in 1992.

Many captains the likes of the late Hansie Cronje, Shaun Pollock, Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers and most recently Francois du Plessis have given it their all but unfortunately always fallen short.

Such has been the irony of their performance to lose games from winning positions, that the world has given them the moniker of ‘perennial chokers’.   

Be it the 1999 WC semi-final against Australia when Allan Donald just had to trust Lance Klusener for the winning run or the 2015 semi-final against New Zealand when Dale Steyn was taken to the cleaners by Grant Elliot in the last over despite the Proteas having the game in their grasp.

With the vagaries of discontent amid a hurtful past ever looming, can South Africa really make it count this time?

Well, the answer for me is an expectant yes and here’s why:

The cricketing world recently saw one of the most remarkable comebacks when South Africa despite being 2-0 down in the ODI leg of the inbound Australian tour won the series 3-2. This after losing the preceding T20I series also 3-0. 

The reason for this rather praise-worthy feat was one word called purpose.

Yes, when a team has purpose galore and they marry this with intent on the field, the result one gets is inspiration to win and this is precisely what the Proteas showed.

The batting came together with captain Temba Bavuma leading from the front having mounted 217 runs in the series with a ton and half-a-ton to his name at a healthy average of 72.

He was ably supported by his partner in crime Quinton de Kock who despite not getting a mountain of runs still managed to invariably give a healthy start for other batters to build on. 

The south-paw also recently announced his retirement from the 50-over format with the ODI World Cup being his last dance and he would indeed have plenty to prove.

Credit must also go to Aiden Markram who came into his own in this series with a mouth-watering 225 runs at a strike rate of 115. His 102 in the third ODI at Potchefstroom was instrumental in the comeback for the Proteas having lost the first two games.

Having said this, the cherry on the cake was undoubtedly the innings of the classy Heinrich Klaasen who surmounted a brilliant 174 of just 83 balls in the fourth ODI at Centurion with the Proteas annihilating the Kangaroos by a whopping 164 runs. 

Such was the destruction showcased by this man from Pretoria with 13 sixes and the same number of fours that even the mighty fine hitters in AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle would have been spell-bound.

When it came to the bowling, the all-round ability of Marco Jansen bore fruit having taken eight wickets in the series and was ably supported by the spin twins in Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi. 

With such purposeful display against Australia, the South Africans are most definitely peaking at the right time and one would surely hope the mother of all trophies could finally come to the shores of southern Africa.

There is much reason to believe this with a team boasting enormous talent, the likes of the destructive de Kock who would be keen to bring his experience of the previous two editions to the fore having scored over 6000 runs in the format. 

He will be ably complemented by the resilient van der Dussen who would want to build from the success of having been the mainstay in the Proteas’ batting in the 2019 edition, the prodigal son Markram who will undeniably be the pivotal figure in the middle order and the annihilators in Klaasen Miller with both of them looking to pile a mountain of runs come the latter part of each innings.

From the bowling stand-point, the raging Kagiso Rabada will certainly look to cement his stature as the leader of the South African attack having stocked up 144 ODI wickets at an impressive average of 27 per cherry supported by the no nonsense Ngidi with his immaculate line and length bowling and the effervescent Jansen adding the much needed fire power to the arsenal.

When it comes to the spin department, Keshav Maharaj would also be raring to go after his incredible recovery from a career threatening injury when he ruptured his achilles tendon earlier this year. His spin twin Tabraiz Shamsi will also be a force to reckon with his crafty left-arm unorthodox slower ones.

One would also hope the king of pace; Anrich Nortje is declared fit from his back injury in time for the global show-piece.

The leader of this outfit, Temba Bavuma will be a man on a mission having had a resurgence in ODIs in 2023 pilling over 600 runs at a mighty fine average of 79 and a strike rate of 104.

Could this be the year of double delight for South Africa with winning both the Cricket and the Rugby World Cup?

Perhaps, the everyday commoner hungry for inspiration would definitely believe so- would he not?


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