In November 1998, a balanced South African unit clinched their maiden world title by winning the Wills International Cup. Despite the absence of key players such as Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock and Gary Kirsten to name a few, the Hansie Cronje led side were ruthless in their approach and won convincingly. Fifteen years on, the Rainbow Nation awaits a world title as their men invariably falter at the big stage. Will the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 be their time in the sun? Will the monkey finally come off their back?
Former South African coach Mickey Arthur said, after the Proteas crashed out of the 2011 World Cup, “The monkey has almost become a gorilla now and until we win an ICC event it’s always going to be there I’m afraid.” Arthur was obviously referring to the infamous “chokers” tag that keeps haunting South Africa at critical junctures. They dominate world cricket and are amongst the most consistent sides going around, but when it comes to these tournaments, the burden of history plays on their minds.
However, South Africa may be in a better position to deal with their predicament this year. In their dressing room, they have the calming influence of Gary Kirsten — who knows a thing or two about winning big events. Coaching an Indian team isn’t an easy job as the pressure is intense with a billion strong expectations, yet he was successful in paving the way to their World Cup victory. In comparison, dealing with the “chokers” tag may be easier as it would all be in the mind. His presence as coach would be crucial as he could keep them focussed even in times of crisis.
On paper, South Africa have the strongest side in the competition. Although they will miss Graeme Smith, they have enough firepower in the batting. Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers would be the mainstays of the batting and have to lead the way. Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy are the other senior men. The great thing is that they have some exciting young talent in Colin Ingram, David Miller and Farhaan Behardien. This generation may look at things differently and wouldn’t be bogged down by their past.
South Africa have often struggled to find a stable spin-bowling option, until they had Johan Botha for One-Day Internationals (ODIs). Now that Botha isn’t playing for them anymore, they have had to find options. A young left-armer named Aaron Phangiso could be the man for the job. His slow-left arm orthodox impressed during the Champions League T20 (CLT20) last year as he kept it tight and also picked up wickets. He may not get enough purchase from the English conditions, but can support the fast bowlers well by bowling a few quiet overs in the middle.
As has always been the case, South Africa’s fate hinges on their fast-bowling department. A ferocious Dale Steyn leads the pack and is backed by Morne Morkel. With them at the helm, it is easy to forget someone like a Lonwabo Tsotsobe. The left-armer adds variety to this attack as he is a touch slower and relies on his nagging line and length to do the trick. More importantly, he is a wicket-taker and that gives them tremendous depth.
To sum up, South Africa have what it takes to rewrite their history. They have a dynamic first eleven and boast of enough depth in their reserves. It is the perfect opportunity for them to send Kirsten off on a high as the Champions Trophy is his last campaign with them. India gave him that perfect send-off in 2011 and it is time his countrymen accord him a similar honour.