South Africa’s one glaring weakness is their inability to win a trophy

2009-09-16 00:00

THE ICC Champions Trophy gets under way on September 22 at Centurion when South Africa take on Sri Lanka in the first 50-over encounter of the tournament.

Once again South Africa is dubbed the firm favourite. New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori agrees with this prediction. He says, “There is no doubt that everybody will be focusing on the South Africans. They are playing brilliantly at the moment, have no obvious weaknesses and will be familiar with the conditions”.

I agree with Vettori on two of his points: South Africa are playing exceptional cricket and have the advantage of playing at home, but they have one glaring weakness and that is their inability to win a trophy.

In the recesses of the Proteas’ minds will be the uncomfortable reminder that they have been unable to win an ICC tournament since 1998.

They have come achingly close on a number of occasions, but for 11 years the cabinet has remained empty.

South African coach Mickey Arthur will certainly be feeling the pressure. He will be keen to see his team live up to their reputation as favourites in this tournament and to see them reinstalling the silverware that has eluded them for so long.

I’m sure Arthur would agree that it would be easier for South Africa to be labelled the underdog and to come from behind to win the tournament.

In the Twenty20 World Cup, South Africa looked and played like the favourites only to stumble in the semi-final, when they were outclassed by an unpredictably impressive performance from eventual winners, Pakistan. Just before this match, one of the Sky commentators asked Graeme Smith if he would have preferred to lose one of the round robin games to get a loss out of the way. I can’t recall Smith’s answer, but the interviewer definitely had a point. Maintaining consistency right through a tournament is tough and a loss in the early rounds can help a team consolidate and refocus. South Africa made their first mistake in the semi-final in contrast to Pakistan, who looked dreadful throughout the tournament, until they beat South Africa.

India, South Africa and Australia are all playing top-class limited overs cricket at the moment and are blessed with a number of quality players. The format of Twenty20 can see a player winning a game single-handedly, but the 50-over format definitely requires a team effort.

The Proteas form a formidable contingent. Their squad appears well balanced with bat and ball and they have a comfortable mix of youth and experience. They have impressive bowling combinations, with right-handed Dale Steyn supported by left-handed paceman Wayne Parnell and right-handed off-spinner Johan Botha alternating with left-arm spinner Roelof van der Merwe.

Their batting line-up is intimidating, with Kallis, Smith, Gibbs and Boucher combining with talented youngsters De Villiers, Duminy and Amla.

The Champions Trophy fixtures have been shared between the Wanderers and Centurion. Both grounds sport pitches that are generally very true and good for limited overs cricket. They allow for shot-making and are conducive to high-scoring games, which provides good spectator value. There will be something in the wicket for the bowlers, but the batsmen should dominate, provided they can handle the pace and bounce. This will provide South Africa and Australia with a distinct advantage over the sub-continent sides who are not used to these conditions.

On paper the Proteas certainly deserve to be favourites for this tournament, but it remains to be seen whether they have enough self-belief to win it. The Springboks have just returned as victorious Tri-Nations champions, so surely it’s the Protea’s turn to get their hands on a trophy.

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