Proteas

Top to bottom, Proteas are match winners

2017-06-01 11:03
AB de Villiers (Getty)

Cape Town - The news this week that Kagiso Rabada has risen to the top of the pile in ODI cricket is a timely boost ahead of the Proteas' ICC Champions Trophy campaign in England. 

It almost came out of nowhere - Rabada hasn't blown anyone away in recent months - but his 4/39 against England in the third ODI at Lord's was explosive, and it launched him to the top of the pile ahead of team-mate Imran Tahir

A look at Rabada's last 10-or-so performances in ODI cricket is not earth-shattering, but it does show consistently good performances that actually date back to his debut in July 2015. 

The Proteas, looking for their first major trophy since the ICC Knockout in 1998, now rule the roost in all of the ICC's main rankings categories heading into the Champions Trophy. 

In Rabada and Tahir, South Africa boast the first and second ranked bowlers in ODI cricket.

Skipper AB de Villiers remains the top ranked batsman in the world, while the rest of the Proteas top order - Quinton de Kock (4th), Hashim Amla (10th) and Faf du Plessis (6th) - also feature in the top 10. 

The Proteas are also the world's No 1 ranked side heading into the tournament. 

While all of those facts suggest that South Africa are in a position of serious strength, they will count for absolutely nothing out in the middle. 

It is not the rankings that should inspire confidence, but rather the fact that it is a Proteas side made up of match winners. 

Rabada's opening spell at Lord's on Monday ultimately won the game for South Africa, and he has done that in all formats for his country over the past couple of seasons. 

Regardless of what the wicket looks like, he can strike at any stage and possesses the ability to destroy an entire top order in one spell of bowling. 

Tahir is also a strike bowler; a wicket-taker. In him, the Proteas have one of the most feared spinners in the game and his unpredictability is not something that all batsmen can handle. 

Both players will be massive to South Africa's chances in England.

The England series revealed that one area of concern for the Proteas is their bowling in the middle overs.

Tahir, for example, was destroyed in the first ODI. 

But if Rabada hits his straps up front and then Tahir follows that up with what we know he can do, then there is reason for optimism with ball in hand. 

It is with the bat, though, where South Africa are fully loaded. 

De Kock is special, and if he is allowed to bat for 25 overs then it is difficult to see the Proteas ever being restricted to anything less than 300. 

He is aggressive, fearless and the longer he bats, the better he gets. 

His opening partner, Amla, is equally dangerous but in a different way. Amla looks in good touch at the moment, and he can bat through most an innings at a strike rate of better than a run a ball. His class is proven, and this week he reached 7 000 ODI runs quicker than anybody else in the history of the game. 

Then comes Du Plessis, who is such an adaptable player. He can be gritty, he can nudge it around and he can attack, depending on the situation. Du Plessis can play big knocks - we have seen it many times before. He gets up for the big games and thrives on the pressure. 

De Villiers remains other-worldly. As long as he is at the wicket, the Proteas will back themselves to chase down any score as long as it is mathematically possible. He is the ultimate game-changer, and if he is as devastating as he can be at this tournament then the Proteas simply can't lose. 

With that much quality in the top four, South Africa should be accumulating at least 200 runs between their quartet of class every time they play. 

That platform would then open the door for the likes of David Miller and Chris Morris - also serious match winners - to either finish the job or set a target that will be beyond reach. 

We have a history of getting too carried away before major tournaments, but a look through this group inspires a lot of confidence.

From top to bottom, there are individuals who can change matches alone. When it matters most, these are the players that must turn it on. 

If they do, then there is no reason why the Proteas can't emerge victorious. 

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