Cape Town - In a Sport24 exclusive, retired SA captaincy legend Graeme Smith runs the rule over the Proteas’ chances in the ICC Champions Trophy.
This year’s ICC Champions Trophy in the United Kingdom will be a tough start to what is a long tour of England for the Proteas.
But the work that’s been done since the disappointment of exiting at the semi-final stage of the World Cup in 2015 means this group of players have all of the necessary components to compete and do well in the tournament.
Form is one thing, but having your key players available and firing is the most important box to tick from a captain’s perspective. The nucleus of key players in the side have stepped up since the World Cup, winning 14 of their last 16 ODIs, meaning the players will be full of confidence as they embark on the tour.
Quinton de Kock has led the charge superbly from a batting perspective, and he’s just one of several very exciting cricketers who’ve helped support AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis since that last tournament.
The bowlers have also shown their increased ability to break partnerships and be dangerous on different surfaces, something that will be key to succeeding in English conditions.
Imran Tahir has been a revelation in terms of his consistency and the energy he brings to the side. Having a quality leg-spin option is such an asset for a captain, as it gives them something different when the pitch is that much flatter. They may well see some dry, flat tracks in England throughout the tournament and having the variety they do with the ball is key.
Another important factor in the development of the side has been the movement away from the previous three-captaincy system to a scenario where senior players have more collective responsibility.
It’s a much more stable system, with AB and Faf taking the side forward, and it provides an environment where each player knows his role inside out. Consistency in selection is, of course, important, but it’s not the be all and end all.
Player responsibility and confidence will be key to us winning games in England.
An area where South Africa struggled in 2015 was the all-rounder role, but it’s been great to see the likes of Wayne Parnell and Farhaan Behardien put in some more consistent performances in the last couple of series, with Parnell especially proving to be very effective with the ball. All-rounders help balance the side for a captain.
I look at the side now and am struggling to find a weak link as there are lots of quality options with the ball as well as with the bat.
The three ODIs against England beforehand in May will help the players acclimatise to English pitches and conditions ahead of the first ball of the tournament, and it’s important that they play those games as close to tournament intensity as possible.
Tournaments are tough by nature, in that from ball one you have to play your best cricket to progress. Playing the host nation, with the quality they have at their disposal, will be a good indication of how ready the players are to try and end the drought in terms of one-day competitions.
One unfortunate reality for all South African players is the tag that accompanies them at any tournament. It’s been nearly two decades since South Africa have won a major one-day tournament, and the question of just why that is gets thrown at you a hundred times in every press conference you do.
The players will have to deal with that, and remind themselves that they were not far away in 2015. This is a side that fans love to watch, with some of the best players in the world and it may well be that bit of luck that will get them over the line.
On ability alone, they won’t fear any side, but until this group of players get that win, they will find it tough to avoid the tags that are put on them.
This isn’t the first group of South African players to enter a tournament with that question over their head, but they couldn’t hope for a better build-up in terms of going in to June with confidence high in the camp.
Interview courtesy of the ICC. Graeme Smith played 117 Tests, 197 ODIs and 33 T20Is between 2002 and 2014, scoring 9 265, 6 989 and 982 runs, respectively. He captained South Africa in 109 Tests, 149 ODIs and 27 T20Is.