Cape Town - The South African team and their supporters hardly
need reminding of the vast improvement required ahead of it, but there seems
little room for grumbling about their pool and fixture list for the 2015 World
Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
The Proteas, currently ranked fifth on the ICC’s one-day
international ladder, are grouped with defending champions and still No
1-ranked India in Pool B, but apart from that obviously tough hurdle really
should canter through the qualifying stage for the quarter-finals.
Regrettably to many observers - and certainly including
this one - the tournament stubbornly retains its rather laborious
construction, with several weeks of activity in the two, seven-team pools and
not enough of it genuinely featuring strength-versus-strength fare even if occasional
minnow triumphs do litter the annals.
Like so many other top-tier nations, South Africa should
comfortably ensure a top-four finish after their six group games, thus
advancing to the knockout phase.
You don’t have to spend too much time in front of a
calculator or studying cricket records to realise that all of Zimbabwe, Ireland
and a yet-to-be-decided qualifier, at the very least, should end below the
Proteas even if they have an unexpected hiccup or two along the way in a pool
also including West Indies and Pakistan.
In the unlikely event that the South Africans are sweating
over safe onward passage ahead of their last pool fixture, it is comforting also
to know that that game is against the very qualifier outfit, at Wellington on
March 12 - logically, it ought to be the Proteas’ easiest game of the lot.
A further point in favour of our country, yet to win the
World Cup in six attempts at it, is that in terms of current rankings, South
Africa only encounter one superior side on the table (the high-riding Indians) - all of Australia, England and Sri Lanka, presently in positions two to four
in that order, lock horns with each other in Pool A.
The Proteas brains trust may also take some comfort in the
fact that when they run into India on February 22, their second group fixture,
it is at the happy hunting ground of the cavernous MCG in Melbourne.
Also the venue for the final of the tournament on March 29,
it has traditionally brought excellent results for South Africa: seven wins
from eight ODIs, including a remarkable six out of six sweep against Australia
With their still-likely emphasis on a pace attack -
presumably Dale Steyn will be back at the helm of the bowling by then - the
Proteas will be pleased to play both India and West Indies (Sydney Cricket
Ground, February 27) on Australian pitches, which generally offer greater carry
and bounce than New Zealand ones.
Their games in the Land of the Long White Cloud are against
Zimbabwe (Hamilton, February 15), Pakistan (Auckland, March 7) and the
afore-mentioned, minnow-nation qualifier.
The Proteas’ match against Ireland is scheduled for Manuka
Oval in Canberra (March 3), virgin territory at present for most members of the
SA ODI squad.
Recently given floodlights, the scenic ground has only
featured three one-day internationals in 21 years thus far, although the very
first featured South Africa: they beat neighbours Zimbabwe by seven wickets
there at their gutsy maiden 1992 World Cup, captain Kepler Wessels (70) and
Peter Kirsten (62 not out) making pretty light work of reaching a modest target
The ODI environment is fluid enough for major shifts in
power to still take place before the 2015 jamboree.
Indeed, optimists in South Africa may be tempted to take the
view that the Proteas’ current frailties (they trail Sri Lanka 3-1 with one
dead-rubber ODI to play, and failed to convince at the recent ICC Champions
Trophy either) may be well-timed, and that the only way is up.
Such a viewpoint, however, doesn’t disguise the fact that
major remedial work lies ahead on virtually all fronts ...
*South Africa’s full
World Cup 2015 Pool B fixture list:
February 15: v Zimbabwe, Seddon Park, Hamilton, NZ
February 22: v India, MCG, Melbourne, Aus
February 27: v West Indies, SCG, Sydney, Aus
March 3: v Ireland, Manuka Oval, Canberra, Aus
March 7: v Pakistan, Eden Park, Auckland, NZ
March 12: v TBC (qualifier), Westpac Stadium, Wellington,
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing