Cape Town - They couldn’t manage it in 2015 … so the 2019 Proteas will be even longer shots for the elusive World Cup crown.
That is a deduction that might be made after an in-depth Sport24 study into the comparative strengths and weaknesses, through the various departments, of the respective South African squads.
On the bright side, it has to be remembered that the plucky group of four years ago in Australasia came as close as any SA side previously to going all the way in their hoodoo tournament, only being eliminated in a semi-final against co-hosts New Zealand that went right to the wire.
So that’s already a considerable point in their favour over the latest group before they even take to the field in the UK.
Yet it also hardly serves as a suggestion that the class of 2019 are going to be rank no-hopers … far from it, perhaps?
There will be seven Proteas survivors at the English-staged event – beginning on May 30 with the host nation tackling Faf du Plessis’s charges at The Oval – as all of Du Plessis, Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy, Imran Tahir, David Miller and Dale Steyn, if fit, have another crack at finally going all the way. (Here’s a reminder of the other eight players in the 2015 party: Kyle Abbott, Farhaan Behardien, AB de Villiers, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Aaron Phangiso, Vernon Philander, Rilee Rossouw.)
And whereas there is a major sacrifice this time with far-from-past-it batting superstar De Villiers (the 2015 skipper) having so regrettably opted to retire from international cricket, the Proteas of 2019 will compensate by, among other factors, giving pace bowling gem Kagiso Rabada his enticing maiden exposure to a World Cup shortly.
Category by category, I believe the exercise below may persuade plenty of observers to share my feeling that the CWC 2015 Proteas were slightly better-equipped collectively than the current group of 15.
By extension, though, the 2019 squad look like entering the looming World Cup less burdened by sheer weight of expectation than their immediate predecessors and some SA CWC squads before that … so have a pleasant capacity for surprise, maybe?
2015: Advantage this batch, I feel, for two overpowering reasons: they had a then 30-year-old De Villiers at roughly the thrilling peak of his reputation (he duly lashed almost 500 CWC runs at average 96) … and a near-metronomically productive Amla also four years younger than the desperately form-starved 36-year-old version, who may well have only sneaked into the travelling party by a whisker. Another now-unavailable factor at the crease at that tournament was tall, big-striking left-hander Rossouw, who averaged 52 from five extremely useful knocks.
2019: Du Plessis, Duminy and Amla are all a crucial bit longer in the tooth, but their experience will nevertheless be important in the UK. Ever-adventurous opener De Kock, wiser for this World Cup at 26, can also reasonably be expected to improve quite substantially on his modest CWC 2015 return of 145 runs at 20.71. The Proteas will hope, in addition, for dangerous wildcard-type showings at this one from Aiden Markram and Rassie van der Dussen, neither of whom has yet played an ODI in English conditions.
2015: The big star from a Proteas perspective at that tournament was lanky Morne Morkel: he ended fourth-highest wicket-taker with 17 at a brilliant average of 17.58. At 34, he could quite feasibly have been a leading member of the CWC 2019 attack, if not for his decision last summer to quit the Proteas and sign Kolpak terms with Surrey. Similarly, another now English-based and unavailable seamer, Abbott, was SA’s most economical figure (run concession 4.19). Steyn, then still well ahead of his major catalogue of injury upheaval, and Philander were also younger and fitter.
2019: There are some fitness-linked question marks around senior figure Steyn and more youthful tearaways Lungi Ngidi (the potential to be a stellar element at this World Cup if fully recovered?) and pronounced rookie Anrich Nortje in the lead-up. But Rabada will be a massive “go to” customer; the earlier CWC was just ahead of his time as he debuted a few months later and promptly grabbed 6/16 against Bangladesh in Dhaka. This squad doesn’t boast a varietal left-arm element, something the 2015 squad did (Wayne Parnell), even if the unpredictable individual only played one match.
2015: Tahir was already a veteran then, so call him an ultra-veteran (at 40) now. The leg-spinner had a very decent World Cup, claiming 15 victims at 21.53. The back-up spinner was orthodox Lions left-armer Aaron Phangiso, although he controversially didn’t get a single game, and Duminy bowled 35 disciplined enough overs of his part-time offies.
2019: Generally, stronger breakthrough potential as a collective, given that the next in line to Tahir in the department is also a pretty renowned strike factor and provider of “mystery” fare in Tabraiz Shamsi. There will again be occasional deployment of Duminy, while Markram provides further off-spin cameo possibilities – he’s been bowling with encouraging decency at times for Hampshire in the CWC lead-up.
2015: A bigger crop, really: main bowling all-rounders Parnell and Philander were supplemented by the presence in the squad also of two batsmen who bowled a bit in Duminy and Behardien. Also to consider is that that amazing “can do” cricketer De Villiers surprised plenty of people at the event with sporadic, hole-filling stints of medium-paced fare and a haul of four wickets into the bargain.
2019: There is some concern this year (Lance Klusener just one to point it out this week) over the likely length of the SA tail -- which also tells you that most of the major members of the SA attack are genuine non-batsmen. The designated all-rounder cupboard is restricted to Andile Phehlukwayo and Dwaine Pretorius, both to play their first World Cups, although there will be bowling chip-ins from Duminy and Markram when necessary.
2015: The Proteas were blessed with two outstanding glovemen at this tournament, De Kock the main element of the mix but with De Villiers, just as proven and capable of superhuman catches behind the stumps, always lurking comfortingly as wonderful cover in the event of mishap to the younger player (he wasn’t required in that capacity).
2019: De Villiers having quit ODIs, the Proteas are considerably less well-off in squad ‘keeping depth this time: it’s basically De Kock or bust in specialist terms as they have opted not to carry a second recognised gloveman. The plan is for middle-order power hitter David Miller to serve in an emergency capacity should it come to that. On a positive note, “Quinny” may well be a more rounded wicketkeeper now than he was four years ago.
2015: Yes, another category where I lean toward the 2015 squad, which would probably have had a general edge in stealth and polish then than the group of four years onward. By leaving the ‘keeping duties to De Kock, De Villiers was a kingpin outfielder, setting standards for his colleagues to follow … and several did.
2019: A worrying feature of the 2019 squad, despite sporting enough luminary fielding figures by reputation, is that several in their midst are nursing historical right-shoulder problems (think Du Plessis, Duminy, Steyn, the ageing Amla), affecting their throwing-in capabilities. A few of their players being quite deeply into their thirties -- and Tahir a rare 40 – doesn’t help, but Markram and Miller will lead the quest for balancing agility and X-factor as fielders.
CONCLUSION: Broadly, I steadfastly think, a stronger title threat from the 2015 squad, who so very nearly marched to a first-time appearance in the final (where they would have had no special reason to be too awe-struck by the Australian side who eventually lifted the crown). That said, there are enough areas of potential for the class of 2019 to be attractive dark horses for maiden glory, if certain key parts fit together more cohesively than doubters may anticipate …
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