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Underdog Proteas looking to exorcise the ghosts of World Cups past

Aiden Markram of the Proteas. (Photo: Isuru Sameera / Gallo Images)

South Africans have long become accustomed to the Proteas falling short at international tournaments. But despite the current generation having been written off, they are keen to make history.

The Proteas are gearing up for yet another attempt at winning a senior men’s cricket World Cup. Unlike in previous World Cup editions, Mark Boucher’s team heads into the global showpiece outside the circle of favourites. That honour has been bestowed on India and England, with the likes of New Zealand, Australia and defending champions West Indies seen as the dark horses.

It is a development that may yet serve the team well, and leave them with room for causing an upset or two as they look to navigate past the semifinal stage of the tournament for the first time in their history.

After sealing a third consecutive T20I series victory in September, the Proteas are confident of doing well in the tournament.

Following five consecutive T20I series losses, dating back to February 2020, the South Africans have whitewashed Sri Lanka and Ireland away from home, as well as edged the West Indies in the Caribbean.  

Although, thrown into a group consisting of sides that are more fancied than themselves, Boucher’s men will have no room for error. The team will open their campaign against old rivals Australia on 23 October, before facing off with reigning champions the West Indies three days later. England are also part of their group.

“It is obviously a tough group that we are in but I don’t think we would have wanted it any differently,” said Temba Bavuma, who will be skippering the team during the tournament.

“As tough as this group might seem, we back ourselves and we back our chances. I know a lot of people out there don’t [back our chances] but we do…

“The teams that we will be coming up against, we have played against them before and have had success against some of them of late and we will be drawing on those good experiences,” said Bavuma.

In the past, the Proteas have headed into major tournaments as favourites, only to be bundled out unceremoniously. Luminaries such as Jacques Kallis, Shaun Pollock and AB de Villiers haven’t been enough to get them over the line.

Despite not boasting as many acknowledged stars in the current setup, the team is full of competitive and improving players. As a consequence there is a great deal of self-belief.

Tabraiz Shamsi of the Proteas bowls during the third T20 International match between Sri Lanka and South Africa at R Premadasa Stadium on 14 September 2021 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (Photo:  Isuru Sameera / Gallo Images)

“I don’t think this team is rubbish. I think we are quite good. I know people speak about great teams of the past but this team is on par with them,” said one of the Proteas’ most consistent performers in recent times, Tabraiz Shamsi.

“We might not have as many household names, and I have mentioned previously that it is because we have not played that much international cricket, but it does not mean that the players are not good just because they are not well known.”

The contributions of the left-arm unorthodox spinner, as well as his fellow spinners, will be crucial to the cause of the Proteas.

Alongside Shamsi, who is the number-one ranked bowler in the T20Is, the likes of Keshav Maharaj, Bjorn Fortuin and part-time spinner Aiden Markram have led the charge in this recent period of success for the Proteas.

The quartet managed a return of 16 wickets between them in that 3-0 series victory over Sri Lanka.

Although all the players will have to come to the party if the South Africans hope to break their World Cup voodoo, Markram – for his ability to be belligerent with the willow and highly effective with ball in hand – will be particularly pivotal. DM168

T20 World Cup roundup

 Group 1 – South Africa, England, Australia, West Indies and 2 qualifiers

Team: South Africa

Best T20 WC: Semifinal (2009)

Key player/s: Tabraiz Shamsi, Quinton de Kock

Overview: The Proteas go into the tournament with no positive history in six previous T20 World Cups to draw on, but they have some recent form. They have won four of their last six T20I series, drawn one and lost one, and are ranked fifth in the world in T20I cricket. They have a strong spinning unit with Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj leading the way, backed up by Aiden Markram’s growing all-rounder status. 

Team: England

Best T20 WC: Winner (2010)

Key player/s: Moeen Ali, Eoin Morgan

Overview: England are the reigning ODI world champions and the No 1-ranked T20I team going into the tournament, but the conditions in the Middle East might test their spin-bowling options. They have a strong batting unit and high-quality seam bowlers in Chris Woakes and Chris Jordan, and speedster Mark Wood. 

Team: Australia

Best T20 WC: Runner-up (2010)

Key player/s: Glenn Maxwell, Aaron Finch

Overview: The T20 World Cup remains the only title Australia have not won in men’s cricket and despite their world ranking of No 7 going into the tournament, they have the talent to change that stat. Their batting is stacked with quality, from David Warner and Steve Smith to captain Aaron Finch and Glenn Maxwell.

Team: West Indies

Best T20 WC: Winners 2012 and 2016

Key player/s: Kieron Pollard, Shimron Hetmyer

Overview: The only team to have won the T20 World Cup twice, the Windies go into the 2021 tournament without much form and a world ranking of nine. In Chris Gayle, they still have a potential match-winning batter, although his recent form doesn’t bode well. Captain Kieron Pollard has played 500 T20Is, and remains a superb all-rounder. The Windies have many power hitters in their line-up, but a lot will have to go right for them to win the title. 

Group 2 – India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Afghanistan and 2 qualifiers

Team: India

Best ever finish: Winners (2007)

Key player/s: Virat Kohli, Rohit

Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah

Overview: India come into the 2021 edition as one of the two favourites, alongside England. They have won two of their last three T20I series, beating Australia and England, before losing to Bangladesh. The team will be keen to see off captain Virat Kohli with a trophy. The prolific batter is set to step down from his captaincy role in the T20 format after this World Cup.

Team: Pakistan

Best ever finish: Winners (2009)

Key player/s: Babar Azam, Shaheen Afridi

Overview: Pakistan are a young side, but there is also a wealth of experience in their squad, with senior players like Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez. They also boast some notable names in their coaching department in former Australian batter Matthew Hayden and former Proteas fast bowler Vernon Philander. Although, with them replacing Misbah-ul-Haq and Waqar Younis respectively, just a few weeks ago, it is unclear just how prepared they are.

Team: New Zealand

Best ever finish: Semifinal (2016)

Key player/s: Kane Williamson, Ish Sodhi

Overview: In Kane Williamson the Black Caps possess one of the best captains in the game currently. The batter’s cool and calm demeanour will be crucial in ensuring the New Zealanders keep their heads even during pressure situations. The islanders have won three out of three T20I series in 2021, although they did abandon what would have been their final series before the tournament start, cancelling plans to tour Pakistan and citing “security reasons”.

Team: Afghanistan

Best ever finish: Ninth (2016)

Key player/s: Rashid Khan

Overview: Ranked eighth in the world in this format, Afghanistan boast two of the top five T20I bowlers in the world on the ICC rankings in Rashid Khan and Mujeeb ur Rahman, and the No 1 T20I all-rounder in Mohammad Nabi. They have won seven of their past eight T20I series, with only a rained-out tri-series final against Bangladesh denying them the chance to make that eight from eight. However, their last T20I series was in March 2021 against Zimbabwe, so they will be a bit rusty. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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