Proteas: Decent CWC draw

Russell Domingo (Gallo)
Russell Domingo (Gallo)
Cape Town - The South African team and their supporters hardly need reminding of the vast improvement required ahead of it, but there seems little room for grumbling about their pool and fixture list for the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

The Proteas, currently ranked fifth on the ICC’s one-day international ladder, are grouped with defending champions and still No 1-ranked India in Pool B, but apart from that obviously tough hurdle really should canter through the qualifying stage for the quarter-finals.

Regrettably to many observers - and certainly including this one - the tournament stubbornly retains its rather laborious construction, with several weeks of activity in the two, seven-team pools and not enough of it genuinely featuring strength-versus-strength fare even if occasional minnow triumphs do litter the annals.

Like so many other top-tier nations, South Africa should comfortably ensure a top-four finish after their six group games, thus advancing to the knockout phase.

You don’t have to spend too much time in front of a calculator or studying cricket records to realise that all of Zimbabwe, Ireland and a yet-to-be-decided qualifier, at the very least, should end below the Proteas even if they have an unexpected hiccup or two along the way in a pool also including West Indies and Pakistan.

In the unlikely event that the South Africans are sweating over safe onward passage ahead of their last pool fixture, it is comforting also to know that that game is against the very qualifier outfit, at Wellington on March 12 - logically, it ought to be the Proteas’ easiest game of the lot.

A further point in favour of our country, yet to win the World Cup in six attempts at it, is that in terms of current rankings, South Africa only encounter one superior side on the table (the high-riding Indians) - all of Australia, England and Sri Lanka, presently in positions two to four in that order, lock horns with each other in Pool A.

The Proteas brains trust may also take some comfort in the fact that when they run into India on February 22, their second group fixture, it is at the happy hunting ground of the cavernous MCG in Melbourne.

Also the venue for the final of the tournament on March 29, it has traditionally brought excellent results for South Africa: seven wins from eight ODIs, including a remarkable six out of six sweep against Australia themselves.

With their still-likely emphasis on a pace attack - presumably Dale Steyn will be back at the helm of the bowling by then - the Proteas will be pleased to play both India and West Indies (Sydney Cricket Ground, February 27) on Australian pitches, which generally offer greater carry and bounce than New Zealand ones.

Their games in the Land of the Long White Cloud are against Zimbabwe (Hamilton, February 15), Pakistan (Auckland, March 7) and the afore-mentioned, minnow-nation qualifier.

The Proteas’ match against Ireland is scheduled for Manuka Oval in Canberra (March 3), virgin territory at present for most members of the SA ODI squad.

Recently given floodlights, the scenic ground has only featured three one-day internationals in 21 years thus far, although the very first featured South Africa: they beat neighbours Zimbabwe by seven wickets there at their gutsy maiden 1992 World Cup, captain Kepler Wessels (70) and Peter Kirsten (62 not out) making pretty light work of reaching a modest target of 164.

The ODI environment is fluid enough for major shifts in power to still take place before the 2015 jamboree.

Indeed, optimists in South Africa may be tempted to take the view that the Proteas’ current frailties (they trail Sri Lanka 3-1 with one dead-rubber ODI to play, and failed to convince at the recent ICC Champions Trophy either) may be well-timed, and that the only way is up.

Such a viewpoint, however, doesn’t disguise the fact that major remedial work lies ahead on virtually all fronts ...

*South Africa’s full World Cup 2015 Pool B fixture list:

February 15: v Zimbabwe, Seddon Park, Hamilton, NZ

February 22: v India, MCG, Melbourne, Aus

February 27: v West Indies, SCG, Sydney, Aus

March 3: v Ireland, Manuka Oval, Canberra, Aus

March 7: v Pakistan, Eden Park, Auckland, NZ

March 12: v TBC (qualifier), Westpac Stadium, Wellington, NZ.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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