Perhaps with the exception of their inaugural World Cup campaign in 1992, never have South Africa gone into a tournament with such low expectations. The Proteas always used to be among the favourites for this quadrennial extravaganza, but the retirement of AB de Villiers, and their own sketchy performances at recent ICC events (they failed to get out of their group at the last Champions Trophy in England), has lowered expectations among their own fans.
What changes did South Africa make to their original World Cup squad?
There was just one- MSL sensation Anrich Nortje withdrew due to injury and all-rounder Chris Morris, who really didn’t appear to be in the Proteas World Cup plans, has been called up as a replacement. There’s plenty of talent in Morris- he has many qualities of what South Africa want in their all-rounder (pace, the ability to bowl a fine yorker, power hitting at will), but seems to be too inconsistent. Gibson initially wanted youngster Wiaan Mulder in the squad, and backed him for most of the last year before deciding that the event came too soon for him.
What is the Proteas weak-point?
It’s essentially the batting. AB de Villiers’ retirement has robbed them of their finest batsman this decade, and with Hashim Amla’s dip in form, a lot will depend on Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis.
Rassie van der Dussen has never played an ODI outside South Africa, David Miller struggles against spin, and JP Duminy is short on match practice, having been out of action for most of the last 12 months.
Unlike previous Proteas World Cup squads, this one also struggles for batting depth. Steyn, Tahir, Rabada and Ngidi is a delightful bowling lineup on paper, but leaves them with a very long tail. Sacrificing one of Steyn or Ngidi for a second all-rounder might be the way to go, but Dwaine Pretorius may become cannon fodder on flat tracks given his gentle pace, and while Chris Morris has the pace, he doesn’t have the consistency. The fifth bowler problem was a big reason for South Africa’s failed 2015 World Cup campaign, and it could haunt them again this year as they struggle to get their balance right.
What are the Proteas strengths?
The form of Du Plessis and De Kock with the bat, and their bowling. However there are some fitness concerns on the bowling front- Steyn and Ngidi seem to get injured too often and there are concerns whether they can last a full tournament, while Kagiso Rabada has been literally bowled into the ground over the last year. South Africa need all of them to be fit and firing- if they don’t, an early exit beckons.
Who could be the unlikely saviour for South Africa?
His international ODI numbers don’t suggest it, but Aiden Markram is a very talented player. Has also been in top form for his English county just before the World Cup. If he can sort out his issues against spin, he could be the key to solving their batting woes. Markram is also the only Proteas player to have won the World Cup as a captain (U19 in the UAE), and has been tipped to take over the captaincy once Du Plessis retires.
South Africa’s fixtures- Tough to start off with, with England, Bangladesh and India as their first three opponents.