Proteas’ group is a lottery

2013-05-29 22:37
Proteas (AFP

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2013-05-29 13:37

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Cape Town – Call it the ball of confusion ... the group South Africa are in for the ICC Champions Trophy tournament starting in the UK next week.

If you used the current one-day international rankings as your yardstick, then world top-ranked India would be tipped to advance to the semi-finals, with the fourth-ranked Proteas likely to accompany them into the last four from Group B and Pakistan (sixth) and West Indies (seventh) going home early.

Only it is not nearly as simple as that, given that no single team has established the sort of consistent 50-overs mastery once exhibited, for example, by the Australian side which won three World Cups on the trot between 1999 and 2007.

With due respect to 2011 champions India, they are nothing like the ODI “machine” those Aussies were - virtually regardless of where they played - in the heyday of the Waugh brothers, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath and others.

It is reflected in their tenuous hold on the top rung of the rankings, with England breathing right down their necks and, aided by home advantage for the Champions Trophy, likely to be favoured to win Group A or at least crack the semis from second spot in their own quartet.

That group is almost as tough to forecast as South Africa’s, only adding to the theory that the teams finding their mojo quickest - after most have come off fairly significant layoffs in the format - will be best-placed to steal the silverware from a relatively short, intense event.

Well-travelled television pundit Mike Haysman, for instance, believes seven of the eight contesting sides have a chance of hoisting the spoils, adding that “only New Zealand exclude themselves in my book”.

Another school of thought might have it that the Black Caps, who tend to be steelier in the shorter the format of the game, can’t exactly be written off.

Injured former Proteas ODI captain Graeme Smith (@GraemeSmith49) has made reference on Twitter to the fact that England play the New Zealanders in a three-game ODI series immediately ahead of the tournament: “Do Eng and NZ have an advantage playing in competitive series before Champs Trophy? My thoughts it’s an advantage considering they have ODI series starting Fri.”

Recent ODI series form by the Group B sides, very much including South Africa, does little to aid any quest to establish obvious favourites to blossom.

The Proteas, for example (not forgetting that they have one relatively “soft” official ODI with the Netherlands still to play, on Friday, before the Champions Trophy) come off a satisfactory enough 3-2 home series win against Pakistan at the end of the home summer.

Not too long before that, however, they served up a reminder that they are still in the vulnerable throes of “rebuilding” by surprisingly losing 2-1 to the Black Caps – even the dead-rubber third game, which they won at Potchefstroom to stave off an embarrassing sweep, was secured off the last ball.

One fairly good sign that the Proteas have the skill and wisdom to be competitive in the challenging, often unpredictable English and Welsh conditions was their fighting out a 2-2 series stalemate with England not long after the Test series triumph on their soil in 2012.

South Africa’s first opponents, India, were not nearly so competent on their own last ODIs visit to England, in 2011, crashing 3-0 to the host nation ... again demonstrating that they are a far more formidable force on the Subcontinent that in more pace- or seam-friendly environments.

They then lost a home series to arch-rivals Pakistan 2-1, before earning revenge against England in India in January this year, winning 3-2 from a position of 1-0 down.

The eternally enigmatic Pakistanis? They’ve “bounced back” from their tightly-fought series loss in South Africa, but only by beating second-tier Ireland and Scotland away recently, and not too convincingly at that.

Against Ireland, for instance, the first ODI in Dublin was tied and they only closed out the second, and thus the mini-series, after coming from a wobbly 17 for four (thanks mainly to wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal’s 81 from the No 7 slot) to narrowly chase down a target of 230.

As for the other element of Group B, West Indies, they rather predictably saw off Zimbabwe 3-0 in the Caribbean in 2012/13, but in February this year were slaughtered 5-0 in Australia, including being skittled for a hapless 70 on the traditionally speed-friendly WACA track in Perth.

You do get the feeling that AB de Villiers’s team, provided key, proven international heavyweights like the captain himself, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy and Dale Steyn are suitably on song, will be best equipped from their group to win it in on the surfaces that will face them ...

Proteas’ Champions Trophy Group B fixtures (top two teams in each group advance to semi-finals): June 6 v India, Cardiff; June 10 v Pakistan, Birmingham; June 14 v West Indies, Cardiff.

 *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  icc champions trophy  |  cricket

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