The million dollar question remains…can the Proteas win the Cricket World cup in 2015?
It’s that time and space again when the One Day cricket fanatics are treated to non-stop action with all the glitz and glamour that goes with the modern game. Entertainment seems to have become a bigger by-product that in past times. The T20 version of the game successfully introduced many new fans to the atmosphere found at the cricket stadiums and their demands are a far-cry from the staid and sterile surroundings found at Test matches.
The players are all part of the wonderful hype. Constantly on the move from city to city with supporters travelling along for the ride in the hope of a fleeting moment with their own hero.
Australia and New Zealand will meet the challenge of hosting the event with aplomb. They understand the game and the enormity of the event. Every venue will be finely-tuned in every facet. They will be no issues with lighting, covers, pitches and crowd-control. It is indeed a mouth-watering time for all who adore the game.
However, for those who have been selected to represent their respective countries, the weight of expectation is always one that keeps the mind ticking long after the bed-side light has been switched off. The coveted trophy crowns a golden moment in a cricketing life-time and fulfills a dream of all players. Only those who have walked up to get the medal and hold the trophy aloft will relate. The rest live in hope.
South Africa is one such country. No-one has experienced the joy yet. It has been a long time in waiting and whilst the odds on winning it seems to get better each time out of the sheer fact that it cannot be like that forever, somehow those same odds don’t count come the day of reckoning.
On balance the Proteas seem to have covered most bases. Back-up players that can step in for the stars seem adequate enough. However, it is not with them that World Cup will be won or lost.
The onus will lie fairly and squarely on the experienced senior players to have the form at the time and to maintain the momentum of that form for the entire duration of the tournament.
The bowling attack looks omni-potent. With Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander leading the pack and the likes of Kyle Abbot and either Imran Tahir or Aaron Phangiso to back them up means teams will work hard for every run. The greatest strength lies in the fact that are genuine wicket-takers and are able to change the game in the space of an over. The flip-side of that of course is that at times they give away to many runs in the quest for that unplayable delivery.
Managing that risk and understanding the dynamic is what captain AB de Villiers will find tough. The pitches will be good for batting and the fields of Australia and large and hard to defend once batsmen get set.
It brings the next critical aspect in to play. That is fielding. My belief is that the team who delivers in the field will have a massive advantage. Opportunities behind the wicket are always created by the Proteas and on the big fields, accuracy and throwing strength often see unexpected wickets tumbling through poor running between the wickets.
Many will argue that the Proteas is their strength. With the top six all being experienced and able to cope with varying conditions, this could be true. In Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers there is maturity beyond years. Add the flair of Quinton de Kock and David Miller and it has a solid look about it. Yet somehow, in recent times, they have not quite been able to close out when it was demanded. No-one doubts that with good form and some luck, they will win deliver more often than not but it is when things don’t quite go to plan in the early stages that things seem to unravel. The search for a Jacques Kallis replacement will go on for the next fifty years. He was one of a kind.
The greatest threat to the batting line-up not winning games when the pressure is really on is the fact that we lack an outright top finisher of matches in the order between number five and seven. That is where the rubber so often meets the tar. Five down with a run-a-ball needed and the pressure mounting requires a cool and steady hand to be able to handle the immense scoreboard pressure. It really doesn’t go about how well one hits a half-valley or even technique. It goes about holding your nerve. That skill is not acquired overnight and cannot be bought or borrowed. It’s a process thing!
Who are the other contenders?
Naturally Australia and New Zealand come into the reckoning as possible winners through the fact that home conditions and support will favour them.
Australia have run hot of late and with the likes of Warner, Watson and Smith in form their batting is explosive. Michael Clarke will return from an injury period and whilst he is a top player, will find the going tough. Being under-done in form and needing to work hard during a massive tournament is never easy. Mitchell Johnson will be up there with the fastest bowler at the tournament and is able to blow and top order away on the day. His form will be absolutely critical to the Australian cause.
New Zealand always need a total team effort to win important games. In Brendon McCullum and Kane Williamson they have two fine batsmen who can dominate an attack for a period of time. However, their bowling attack will need to really gel for them to chain the other top sides when it counts. The one aspect they seem to always do better than most is to somehow hang in when the going is tough and absorb the pressure.
Sri Lanka are always dangerous opponents and play big moments well. In Kumar Sangakarra and Mahele Jawardene they have amazing experience and steadiness under pressure. Angelo Matthews as an all-rounder is more than capable. Their spin department often build pressure and astute captaincy is part of their make-up. However, the big fields of Australia have often seem than battle to create the same pressure as they do in the subcontinent.
Who can ever write of the men from the Caribbean! Chris Gayle is the name that many bowlers have on their mind whilst on the bus to a match against them. In recent times many of them have chosen the shorter version of the game over Test cricket and ply their trade around the One Day world. Flair and passion come as a guarantee with the West Indies and so does inconsistency. I don’t believe they can go all the way due their bowling not being as experienced in tough situations.
Somehow the current Indian One-Day team just doesn’t seem the complete product anymore. However, with Virat Kholi is in amazing form and with captain Dhoni now focusing on the short game they may yet surprise. The bowling remains a worry on good pitches. Again, spin is a very important cog in their attack and that isn’t expected to be a huge factor in Australian conditions. Their fielding will also come under huge scrutiny.
The likes of Pakistan and England seem very unsettled as teams go and have had their own issues of late that hasn’t made building a team specifically for the World Cup easy. Of course on their day they have the players that can make life difficult for the top teams but overall aren’t in my reckoning as serious title contenders. Zimbabwe and Bangladesh will not compete in the conditions Down Under or in the land of the long white cloud!
What to watch out for!
- The Power-Play overs have not been mastered by teams consistently. They remain a critical aspect in scoring big totals and placing pressure on bowling attacks
- Catching well BEHIND the wicket will be a necessity
- The Bowling in the closing overs of an innings often determines the outcome of the match
- Running well between the wickets in the middle overs often adds valuable extra runs on bigger fields
The latest technology will be on display and reviews will need to be chosen wisely. Just maybe the fortunes of some lie in right there…