Proteas can match the best
Sport24 columnist Craig Matthews (File)
With another World Cup Cricket event on our doorstep, Proteas fans will naturally be starting to wonder whether this might be the first ICC tournament which the South African team can win.
Nothing has been won since the ICC Champions Trophy in Bangladesh in 1998, a "record" which has been the source of much disappointment and frustration to fans and players alike. These feelings have been reinforced by the fact that South Africa have started a number of these events as one of the favourites.
If one analyses the ICC Cricket World Cup, ICC World Twenty20 and Champions Trophy events since the start of South Africa’s participation in 1992, Australia have dominated winning five of the 13 events, and only Pakistan have won more than one event outright. India and Sri Lanka have won one and shared one each and the West Indies, New Zealand and South Africa have each tasted success on one occasion. Ironically, England have yet to ever win any ICC event, and their participation dates all the way back to 1975.
So why, despite being the favourites going into to a number of these events, have South Africa failed to get across the line - and will it be different this time around in the Caribbean?
Generally, sporting teams which have consistent success in the big, international events have a core of experienced, world class players who are able to raise their game in the big matches, which often inspires the less well-known players to perform above themselves, thereby making the team extremely formidable opponents.
Australia who have won the last three Cricket World Cups and two Champions Trophy events (meaning they have won every 50-over International Cricket event for more than a decade) are a case in point. Although they have had a great team over much of the period in question, a quick review of the last three Cricket World Cups is worthy of note.
In the last three World Cup finals (1999, 2003, 2007) Adam Gilchrist scored 260 runs at an average of more than 86 and strike rate of more than 100; Ricky Ponting scored 140 not out in the 2003 final; Glen McGrath and Shane Warne reduced Pakistan to 132 all out in the 1999 final taking 2/13 and 4/33 respectively; McGrath was man of the series in 2007 and took three wickets in the 2003 final (including the prize wicket of Sachin Tendulkar).
Clearly, South Africa have had the players to equal to these Australians (with the exception of the blond leggie) but have not been able to raise their games to the required level in the real must-win matches.
Some might not agree that the team selected for the 2010 World Twenty20 has truly world class players, but one can’t argue that the credentials of a number of the players in the team place them among the best of all time.
The chorus of Jacques Kallis detractors have only to take the time to review Jacques’s career to realise that he is without doubt the greatest all-rounder this country has ever produced and among the top two (with Gary Sobers) all-rounders of all time.
Cricket enthusiasts will argue as to whether Ponting or Tendulkar is the best batsman in the world, but when one considers that Kallis's average is virtually the same as these two, and he has more than 250 wickets in Tests and ODIs, it is blatantly obvious how influential he has been for South African cricket.
Added to this, Mark Boucher has a record as a wicketkeeper, and to a lesser degree, as a lower order batsman, that cannot be matched by anyone other than Gilchrist.
Again, as in the Kallis case, I struggle to understand those fans who do not appreciate the impact that Boucher has had on the Proteas team over the last number of years.
His wicketkeeping has been out of the top drawer and the number of times he has won a game for his team or placed the team in a position to win a game with his aggressive stroke play, makes him a giant of the SA game.
On the bowling front, Dale Steyn has developed into a top performer over the past few years and his strike rate in Test cricket is second on the all time list of bowlers (including Warne!). Allan Donald was a great South African fast bowler, but Dale’s record suggests that his career will end up being better than that of "White Lightning".
Finally, Graeme Smith’s record, as an opening batsman and captain, is excellent and therefore there is no doubt that South Africa have the nucleus of a team capable of winning the T20 and Cricket World Cups in India next year.
The key is whether the senior players can step up and produce performances throughout the event which will lift and inspire the whole team to their first success in 12 years. Here’s holding thumbs and best of luck! Craig Matthews played 18 Tests and 56 one-day internationals as a seam bowler for South Africa between 1991 and 1997, and until recently served as a national selector.Disclaimer:
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