Anything Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis couldn’t do, the newer school must do – and do better – but AB de Villiers and company will go into the 2015 World Cup with the usual questions hanging over their heads.
Can the sins of the past be redeemed? Is the collective mind-set solid enough? Will key individuals rise to the fore on a consistent basis? How long will the dreaded ‘c’ word remain at bay before fickle fans, foes and pundits alike dredge up the beleaguered past? Can the Proteas bring back the trophy in eight weeks’ time?
The practicalities of such an illustrious achievement, however, must be balanced by mental edge.
Coach Russell Domingo has insisted on approaching this World Cup as he would any other series. His bid to downplay the importance of the event – and hopefully quieten public pressure – has manifested in the absence of a mental conditioning coach.
“Why create the anxiety when we’ve been playing so well without it?” Home truths, indeed, from Domingo.
Paddy Upton, Jeremy Snape, Henning Gericke and Mike Horn performed the role in various capacities in the past. All have been deemed surplus to requirements this time, although Michael Hussey has been recruited on a consultancy basis.
The former Australian batsman played in two World Cups, winning one – and will largely assist the squad using his experience.
As a left-hander, he’ll afford Quinton de Kock, JP Duminy and David Miller plenty of insight. As a man adept at floating up and down the order, he’ll advise Rilee Rossouw accordingly. As a decent part-time ODI seamer, familiar with the lines and lengths required in Sydney and surrounds, he’ll monitor and hopefully correct the freelance trundle offered by Farhaan Behardien – and perhaps De Villiers.
Hussey’s inside scoop on the Australian team, when the staunch rivals trade blows towards the business end of the tournament, will be instrumental.
Hussey will, at the very least, augment a coaching staff lined with the talents of Allan Donald, Charl Langeveldt and Claude Henderson. In an intriguing subplot, Donald’s two months in Australasia will be telling.
The employment of Langeveldt suggests he is being groomed to take over from Donald as the bowling coach. An early exit for the Proteas would probably mean the same for Donald, while a successful campaign should delay Langeveldt’s promotion.
Either way, South Africa must get their death bowling spot on, necessitating the regular selection of yorker extraordinaire Kyle Abbott.
The Proteas should have a relatively simple start to their Pool B campaign against Zimbabwe. The minnows sprung a shock defeat against their African neighbours in 1999 – but almost two decades later are a substantially poorer opposition, dogged by several off-field problems.
A tough fixture against India will follow in Melbourne, where hard and fast conditions will have to be tempered by calculated hitting and disciplined bowling. South Africa had the beating of the West Indies in January; February should be no different – but a potential banana peel in perennial giant slayers Ireland must be avoided.
Pakistan, their own worst enemy, will present a litmus test. A closing group match against the United Arab Emirates, as Gary Kirsten and Donald circa 1996 would confirm, must bring nothing more than a walk in the park.
A mere 50% win ratio across these six fixtures should book South Africa a quarterfinal berth, when the real challenge will kick in.
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