South Africa

South Africa

Cricket: South Africa begin quest for glory after a blip in Champions Trophy appetisers

Cricket: South Africa begin quest for glory after a blip in Champions Trophy appetisers

The three-match series against England was only ever going to be an appetiser for the main meal that is the Champions Trophy. In parts, South Africa looked like they might have suffered a bout of food poisoning from their nibbles. But that’s all done and dusted and they begin their search for silverware on a clean slate in their opening fixture against Sri Lanka on the weekend. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

South Africa arrived in England in May brimming with swagger and confidence. And why not? Since 2016, and prior to the mishap against England, they had won 19 out of 27 matches. They’d beaten Australia and Sri Lanka 5-0 and edged a 3-2 series win away from home against New Zealand. On more than one occasion, they managed to worm themselves out of a hole in which they would have previously curled up and died.

They even seemed to have found a way to perform the Heimlich Manoeuvre on themselves in case of emergency. Then in three match appetiser against England, it seemed that they’d forgotten how to play cricket. Tame dismissals in the first match and engineering a way to screw up needing ten runs off ten balls with five-wickets in hand – no matter how good that final over was – would have had a few people breaking out in cold sweats and memories of ICC tournaments past came flooding back.

By the third fixture, it was as if none of that had ever happened and South Africa were swaggering about all imposingly once more as they earned themselves a consolation win and sent a reminder to everyone, beaming: Remember us?

Perhaps that series loss was not too much of a surprise. After all, South Africa had not managed to win a one-day series on Mud Island since 1998. They’ve retired Test captains all willy-nilly in that time, but the coloured clothing stuff has been far more challenging.

Let’s also be honest about this bilateral shindig: no matter what platitudes have been dished out, it wasn’t really expected to be anything other than a way for players to get used to the conditions and for South Africa to figure out what the hell their best XI is in those conditions.

Do they have an exact answer to that yet? Probably not.

What we do know is that South Africa’s top order will have to spark in this tournament. Fortunately, sparking is something they’re all accustomed to. Quinton de Kock is a freak, Hashim Amla keeps on breaking “fastest to variation of thousands of runs” records, Faf du Plessis is irksome and AB de Villiers is not from this planet.

What happens in the middle order will be the surprise factor. All the players there are being as brilliant as they are frustrating and the brains trust will have to resist the urge to compensate elsewhere.

That elsewhere comes lower down the order. The temptation to jam the side full of all-rounders – perhaps in some weird subconscious Freudian way to compensate for their long absence – is something they’ll have to resist. They also have to resist conservative selections.

The bowling line-up, too is a Rubik’s Cube with some of its squares pulled off. Kagsio Rabada, now the world’s number one ranked ODI bowler, basically picks himself. As does Imran Tahir (provided he is fit, as the team promised he would be on Wednesday), but what about the rest?

Might South Africa consider overcoming their conservatism and opt for – sit down for this – two spinners in conditions people don’t really associate with spinners? If those spinners are taking wickets and keeping the run-rate down, is it not worth exploring? And then, what of the quicks?

Wayne Parnell and his left arm adds something different, but Morne Morkel at full tilt is something quite extraordinary, too. Of course, there is no reason that all three of them can’t play. Making the puzzle pieces fit perfectly is a bit like trying to thread a needle in the dark – it can be done, but it might take a few tries.

Beyond the slight uncertainty around team selection, what we know for sure is that it’s going to be a high-scoring tournament. Such is the wont of modern-day cricket and the cross bowlers must bear. Whichever bowlers manage to set fire to that cross – even if it’s later doused – will be the difference.

South Africa, ranked number one in the world in the format, really should make it out of their group. They should be expected to top it. From there, it’s a hop, skip and perhaps a bit of self-delivered Heimlich Manoeuvring to get into the final. DM

Squad: AB de Villiers (capt), Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock (wk), Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, David Miller, Chris Morris, Wayne Parnell, Andile Phehlukwayo, Kagiso Rabada, Imran Tahir, Keshav Maharaj, Dwaine Pretorius, Farhaan Behardien, Morne Morkel.


June 3: v Sri Lanka at The Oval, London

June 7: v Pakistan at Edgbaston, Birmingham

June 11: v India at The Oval, London.

Photo: Photo: AB de Villiers celebrates the run out of Williamson with team mates. One Day International Cricket. New Zealand Black Caps v South Africa Proteas. Eden Park, Auckland. New Zealand. Saturday 4 March 2017 © Copyright photo: Andrew Cornaga /


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