By Nick Said
CAPETOWN (Reuters) – South Africa have previously arrived at Cricket World Cup tournaments among the favourites to lift the trophy and failed dismally, but this time round can fly under the radar with a youthful team largely shorn of the baggage of the past.
Since they were re-admitted to international sport in 1992, the Proteas have reached the semi-finals in four of their seven World Cup appearances, but never made the final.
Only seven of South Africa’s 15-man squad, however, have been to a World Cup before, and while they have some concerns going into the tournament in England and Wales, there is a freshness about their side that coach Ottis Gibson hopes will leave any negativity buried deep in the past.
“It is a fresh start for us,” Gibson said. “It is my first time with the team and we have been using the same language for the last 18 months since I have been here.
“It is one of positivity all the time. What is gone in the past is gone. We are not taking the past with us to the World Cup, it is a new adventure for us.”
When all their players are fit, South Africa look a balanced side, albeit with a top order batting line-up that is prone to collapse.
Their major concern though lies in a bowling attack that has tremendous pace, skill and guile, but three frontline seamers who have all had injury concerns in the build-up to the tournament.
Kagiso Rabada tweaked his troublesome back during the Indian Premier League, while Dale Steyn suffered a recurrence of his on-going shoulder problems.
Lungi Ngidi, who has a knack of taking early wickets, did not go to the IPL at all with a side-strain.
Whether the trio can last from South Africa’s opener against England at The Oval on May 30 and a potential final on July 14 may dictate the team’s trophy chances.
Other key players are wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock, who blasts away at the top of the order, and leg-spinner Imran Tahir, who is 40 years old but arguably in the form of his life.
Getting out-of-form opener Hashim Amla to fire would be a big bonus for the team, though they do have Aiden Markram, who excelled in a recent short spell with Hampshire, as a potential replacement.
“This is the beauty of the 15 players we have selected, it gives us so many options, we can interchange people and put them in different positions,” Gibson added.
“That is fantastic going into a World Cup where weather conditions will dictate a lot of how the tournament is played.”
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)