Would Waugh lie to us?

2011-02-12 00:00

THE World Cup is nigh upon us, and yet an underwhelming sense of expectation persists within the South Africa.

Perhaps it is because the Super 15 is also starting in the same week, or maybe because the various football leagues on our channels are providing more than their usual share of drama.

Whatever it is, let us hope it passes by the time India take on Bangladesh in the 2011 showpiece opener in exactly a week’s time.

After all, this is the one World Cup where no clear favourites have distinguished themselves as genuine prospects for the title.

As Graeme Smith said just before the Proteas departed on Tuesday, any one of the six teams have a decent shot at the title.

Steve Waugh’s bold — if mischievous — proclamation that the Proteas were his favourites for the title was met with just as much local enthusiasm as a petrol price increase.

The various online forums that allow every Jim, Jack and Jabu to throw in their five cents worth about these matters went positively ballistic as they accused Waugh and those tricksters from Down Under of playing mind games.

One utterance I read even went as far as saying that the Aussies were trying to lure Smith’s men into a false sense of security so that they would dampen the intensity of their preparations.

Despite the aforementioned pearls of wisdom, what the grizzled former Aussie skipper said makes much sense.

The Proteas, after years of failure in the big events, come into this World Cup with a sense of perspective — a grasp of reality.

Deep down, the likes of Smith, Corrie van Zyl and — in particular — Jacques Kallis would love nothing more than to return to OR Tambo with a pricey piece of jewellery to declare at customs.

But their travels and trials have taught them that Lady Luck needs to to be around at some point if they are to break their significant duck.

The vagaries of knockout sport also mean that they could be one flat performance from returning home with a new list of meltdown moments.

What is more, there is a nagging sense that the Proteas have left some of the best-equipped players back on these shores.

The current Pro20 Series has provided some dramtic finishes — and some dominant performances by players deemed unworthy by the national selectors.

Albie Morkel, Johan van der Wath, David Miller and even Mark Boucher have all played significant hands in games that looked out of reach for their sides, and these players have somehow won the day in startling fashion.

It is no coincidence, because they are all what is now commonly referred to as finishers.

When you reel off the list of quality players who will, like you and I, be watching the World Cup from their lounges, one would have to assume that South African cricket is in rude health.

Of course, the recent tour by India suggested that this may not necessarily be the case.

The Proteas top brass have decided that Colin Ingram will play this role in the World Cup, batting at seven and seeing the side across the line in tight situations.

There is just one small problem with that.

Ingram is an accumulator in the same style as Hashim Amla and Kallis. With those two firmly entrenched in the top four, it is a bit indulgent to plonk a relatively inexperienced player into a role that is, to be brutally honest, do or die.

Ingram has been handed an unenviable task, and the fortunes of this side may rest on his ability to rise to the biggest of occasions.

And all the while, the rest of the cricketing world is priming itself for a shot at the title.

Australia, despite their defeat in the Ashes series, possess enviable know-how when it comes to crunch games.

India are at home, while Sri Lanka and England have experienced sides that have flown happily under the radar.

South Africa’s group also houses several unpredictable sides.

The likes of the West Indies, Bangladesh and even Ireland have the ability to surprise a giant on their day — and the last thing the Proteas need is an early banana skin to throw them off balance.

If Waugh’s sage offering is to come to pass, the Proteas will have to keep their heads in the considerable heat of battle.

They have the experience, the stars and just enough battle scars to live in the faith that this might just be their time.

After all, an Aussie wouldn’t play with our fragile minds, would he?

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