It’s tough to gauge exactly what the expectations are for South Africa in the 2019 Cricket World Cup.
On one hand, the Proteas won their first ever knockout-stage match and advanced to the semifinals in 2015 before falling to co-host New Zealand. On the other, South Africa appears to be taking a much weaker squad to England and Wales than the one that travelled to Australia and New Zealand four years ago.
“In previous World Cups, we wanted to do Superman things,” captain Faf du Plessis told reporters before the team left for England.
“We thought we had to be more special, we had to do something more than we usually do, and we did not do what was good enough before.”
South Africa will also have to overcome a haunted World Cup history. The Proteas advanced to the semifinals in 1999 and were on the cusp of reaching the final when they found themselves tied with Australia with two balls to go. Any South Africa fan knows what happens next.
In a miscommunication for the ages, Lance Klusener ran and Allan Donald didn’t, and thousands of Proteas fans sat stunned as Donald was run out and Australia advanced to the final. To add insult to injury, the Australians beat Pakistan to win the World Cup final in their next match.
Despite the heartbreaking ending to their campaign, South Africa came into the 2003 World Cup – hosted in Johannesburg, the first time the tournament had been hosted in South Africa – as one of the favourites to win. They didn’t reach the knockout stage.
Another semifinal loss followed in 2007, and in 2011 the Proteas bowed out in the quarterfinals. But South Africa reached the semifinals once again in 2015, and this tournament represents an opportunity to build off a semifinal finish for the first time.
The pressure is on for Du Plessis, who will lead the Proteas into a World Cup for the first time. Hashim Amla and Imran Tahir join Du Plessis as players who will be competing in their third World Cup.
The X-Factor for South Africa will probably be batsman Quinton de Kock. The wicket-keeper is one of the best cricketers in the world and will be asked to shoulder a huge load for the Proteas in England and Wales. At just 26 years old, de Kock is now ranked as the No. 4 ODI batsman in the world, one spot above du Plessis at No. 5.
On the other side, South Africa’s highest-rated bowler is the 40-year-old Tahir at No. 4, while Kagiso Rabada is right behind at No. 5. Meanwhile, the Proteas are currently ranked No. 3 in the world, behind only India and New Zealand.
“Look, the expectation is always high,” Tahir said. “Obviously we’ve got some set standards for our team and that’s what we’re trying to achieve when we get to the world cup. What we’ve been doing, we just need to do that, and we’ve been playing a very good brand of cricket.”
In what could either be a chance to overcome their disappointing past performances or a chance for history to repeat itself, Edgbaston Stadium – the site of the 1999 semifinal – will again be a venue for the tournament and will host a semifinal match. If South Africa does advance to the semifinal this time (maybe against Australia?), expect more and more comparisons to be drawn.
South Africa will get an early start to the tournament when they take on England in the World Cup’s opening match on 30 May. Each team will play nine group stage matches, after which the top four teams will advance to the semifinals. The group stage will wrap up on 6 July, when South Africa take on defending champions Australia.
The tournament will feature 10 teams, down from the 14 that contested it in 2011 and 2015. The winning nation will earn $4,000,000, raising the already sky-high stakes.
South Africa’s youngest player, 23-year-old Lungi Ngidi, said he was excited to compete in his first World Cup.
“Since I started playing international cricket, it’s something that was always brought to my attention, that there is a world cup coming, am I looking to be within that squad? And now I’m here,” he said. “So there’s no turning back now. Nothing but excitement going there, and, yeah, it would be a dream come true to win that World Cup and to bring it back to South African soil.” DM