It’s not as if the batsman was backing up overly far…
This might just as well be South Africa’s year at ICC Champions Trophy in England.
The squad picked by Cricket South Africa (CSA) is perhaps the best balanced of all the squads selected for this event, and the enrollment of upcoming South African young superstars, most notably Dwaine Pretorius and Andile Phelukwayo, only add up to the depth in their all-rounder department.
Though AB de Villiers still retains the captaincy ahead of Faf du Plessis, the squad is strong enough to make history in England by winning their first-ever international cricket event since 1998.
South Africa will enter the tournament as the number-one ODI outfit after comprehensive series wins over Australia and Sri Lanka at home. They also scraped to a 3-2 series victory against a strong New Zealand side in the latter’s backyard.
Starting with their batting line-up, they possess a formidable top four with Hashim Amla and the ever-vibrant Quinton de Kock at the top. Though de Kock would be coming on the back of an injury lay off that saw him miss the IPL, his incredible run of form for his national side is tough to match.
On the other hand, Hashim Amla is having a fantastic IPL 2017 for Kings XI Punjab, where he scored his maiden T20 hundred.
Up next is the ever-reliable Faf du Plessis and his teammate Ab De Villiers. Both of them have extensive experience of playing in England – du Plessis even played for Lancashire on a Kolpak deal in his early years. De Villiers was the leading run-scorer in the New Zealand series as well.
Though the scrutiny would be surrounding the fifth spot, which would be occupied either by J.P Duminy or Farhaan Behardien, the general set-up of the starting XI looks very much in balance. Duminy would be presumably preferred to David Miller or Farhaan Behardien owing to his handy off-spin bowling.
The next three positions would hold the key for any team in the tournament, and this is where the new-look South African team has delivered fantastic performances in their last three ODI series victories.
Dwaine Pretorius, Andile Phelukwayo and Wayne Parnell have not only added a different variety to their fast-bowling line-up but have also contributed match-winning runs, especially in the New Zealand series.
Even the South African head coach, Russell Domingo, spoke highly of this trio and the fact that they have delivered immediately when being asked to play in the starting eleven.
After the victory over New Zealand in the third match of the series Domingo said, “It’s been a feature of our side’s performances over the last year that the younger players have all come in and put in performances straight away, which speaks a lot about where the team is at the moment and the culture of the group.”
Undoubtedly this is the strongest and the best balanced team heading into the Champions Trophy.
And giving this trio back-up is Delhi DareDevil’s most valuable player this IPL season, Chris Morris, who would be fighting for a spot in the starting XI with Pretorius and Parnell.
To add to this strong set-up, they would have the express fast-bowling combination of Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel. Even in the spin area they have Imran Tahir and the ever-consistent Keshav Maharaj. Though Maharaj has not featured in an international one-day game, his exploits in the Test arena has not gone unnoticed. His excellent performance in the first Australian-South Africa Test series in Perth caught plenty of headlines.
This South African team has shown absolute passion and ambition in their fight to become number one in the ODI format, decimating a weakened Australian team and Sri Lanka 5-0 at home.
Whenever they needed someone to produce a match-winning contribution, they found one. Dwaine Pretorius came into the team for the Bullring Pink one dayer and returned with a Man-of-The-Match figure of three for 19 in his seven. Faf Du Plessis scored his best of 185 in the following game.
In New Zealand De Villiers found an able partner in Andile Phelukwayo as they scrambled to a four-wicket win with a ball to spare.
In the next game Dwaine Pretorius pulled the team from a precarious position to the jaws of victory with a flashing 50 along with Phelukwayo.
Wayne Parnell contributed with two scores of 30 in the following game as South Africa took a 2-1 lead in the series. Even David Miller came to the party in the decider to score a match-winning score 45 off 45 deliveries.
This South African team has shown plenty of mettle in the WAY they bounced back from every defeat and a comprehensive display of sheer dominance in the way they outplayed Australia and Sri Lanka.
They even have a relatively easy group schedule in the tournament, with opening assignments against Sri Lanka and Pakistan. India, if they participate, would be the toughest encounter for them.
The semi-final would again be decisive, as that has been their biggest stumbling block in major ICC events. This team, however, has shown they will not wilt under pressure, even while chasing. In New Zealand they produced capable performances to see themselves across the line.
Vernon Philander, who is out with an injury, might be a bit missed, especially in the seaming conditions in England – Philander is perhaps the biggest exponent of seam bowling in modern-day world cricket.
Nevertheless, the variety in their bowling arsenal, from academic fast bowlers to medium-pacers who could change their pace and have tricky variations, makes South Africa a very well-equipped team to face any uncertainty in those conditions.
This ICC Champions Trophy is certainly on the cards for the Proteas to break their jinx of not winning an international event since 1998.