CWC: Proteas' closing date from hell

2019-03-29 13:21
Faf du Plessis
Faf du Plessis (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - It looked less formidable a few weeks ago ... suddenly it shapes up as the least desirable of dates imaginable, a potential white-knuckle ride and fresh flirtation with a jinx.

South Africa v Australia: that is the very last round-robin match ahead of the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup, set down for Old Trafford as a day-night affair on July 6.

There is one other pre-knockout fixture that day, as strongly fancied India square off with Sri Lanka at Headingley, although that has an earlier, orthodox daytime start.

So those extra few hours could just be decisive in shaping the confirmed quartet of participants in the semis - especially bearing in mind that this may be one of the most open World Cups in years.

The game in Manchester, especially if the stakes are still suitably high by then, is a dream one for UK-based neutrals, of course, as it pits against each other the very teams who slugged out two of the most nail-biting, Hall of Fame-worthy encounters the last time CWC was staged on those shores, back in 1999.

Who will ever forget the Super Six-phase clash at Headingley, where Steve Waugh’s characteristically gritty, unbeaten 120 turned around the match, simultaneously giving the Aussies a lifeline into a semi against ... the very same South Africa at Edgbaston, only four days later?

The fast-turnaround second meeting, of course, even eclipsed that one for sheer drama, creating arguably the most talked-about CWC semi of all time, Lance Klusener’s smouldering blade (a late-innings factor throughout the tournament) carrying SA to the very brink of victory before his fateful run-out mix-up with Allan Donald.

That tied outcome saw the Aussies agonisingly (certainly if you were a mortified “Saffer”) advance to the ultimately tame final against Pakistan, on the grounds of higher finish on the Super Six table.

The marketers and promoters of the latest English-hosted World Cup, 20 years onward, are clearly no fools … this round-robin door-closer is just such a teaser, so dripping in poignancy as the big southern hemisphere enemies lock horns in another possible “sudden death” situation.

Only a few weeks back, though, the match-up might well not have looked nearly so mettle-testing for the Faf du Plessis-era Proteas ... which may also explain why any hype around it has been relatively subdued to this point.

Then, the Aussies had looked in a right old mess as a one-day factor, having surrendered a startling - for them - six bilateral series in a row since their last triumph over Pakistan at home in 2016/17.

Their losses included to India and England, both home and away, as well as New Zealand away and South Africa at home (2-1 earlier this summer).

Keep in mind also that when they last toured our shores for white-ball purposes in 2016/17, they suffered an historic 5-0 whitewashing from the host nation, albeit minus most of their first-choice pace attack on that occasion.

But at a perfect time for them, in terms of World Cup preparation and as defending champions from 2015, the Aussies have launched a serious, slightly unexpected revival crusade.

Usually as fallible as many other nations on the Subcontinent, they have seen off India 3-2 on their own pitches from a 0-2 deficit, and currently sport an unassailable 3-0 lead over ICC Champions Trophy holders Pakistan in a five-match series in the United Arab Emirates.

That means six victories on the trot in those demanding conditions, which takes some doing and suggests the men in yellow - now also able to be fortified in the batting department by previously disgraced Steve Smith and David Warner - are primed for a particularly stubborn defence of their CWC crown soon.

Nobody needs reminding that Australia pride themselves as a major-tournament team, a fact borne out by their unprecedented record of five World Cup successes: 1987, 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2015.

By stark contrast, and despite many periods of bilateral brilliance against various countries in ODIs, the Proteas have that unbearable CWC jinx (not even a final appearance to show yet) and unwanted, yet oft-used tag as “chokers” on crunch tournament occasions.

Against that backdrop, and assuming they remain “alive” by then, do they really want Australia as last round-robin foes at CWC 2019?

Perhaps the best way to sidestep answering that question is for South Africans to earnestly hope a semis place has been sealed by Du Plessis and company before the mental and other rigours of that Mancunian match-up ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    australia  |  proteas  |  cwc 2019  |  cricket


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