This South African team possesses the balance, the X-factors, the allrounders and the pedigrees to go all the way at the ICC Champions Trophy tournament in England from 1st to 19th June, said four former SA players asked about the recently-released squad.
At the inaugural event in 1998, then known as the ICC KnockOut Trophy, South Africa beat the West Indies comfortably by six wickets at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka.
Since then, South Africa has occasionally flattered to deceive. The Proteas left their former World Cup-winning coach Gary Kirsten fuming with their tame implosion in a semifinal thrashing by the hosts, when England romped to a lop-sided seven-wicket triumph at a previous ICC Champions Trophy event in the United Kingdom.
Albie Morkel, captain of the Multiply Titans who represented South Africa in 58 one-day internationals (ODI), said this Proteas-team possesses the depth with bat and ball to lift the trophy in June.
He applauded the decision to include Keshav Maharaj, saying the left-arm spinner possesses the X-factor and can turn it, or keep batsmen rooted to their crease.
Morkel said several players are currently also active in the Indian Premier League and in England, which will ensure that South Africa is well-prepared when the event commences.
South Africa will play in two warm-up games and will also do battle against England from 24th to 29th May in three ODIs before the tournament gets underway.
“I think Chris Morris has improved immensely the past 15 months with the ball. He has added a yard and a half of pace. And he is controlling that delivery that swings back into the right-handed batsman. He also has that X-factor with the bat,” he said.
Justin Ontong, a former SA player in all three formats who captained the Proteas in his final T20-match in 2015, saluted the inclusion of Maharaj, saying he is a very clever bowler and has an astute understanding of the game.
“When the ball is not spinning, he will use different angles and mix up his pace. He can also score you 20 to 30 quick runs. His performances in New Zealand (where he captured 6-40 in the second test in Wellington) have also strengthened his self-belief,” he said.
“We have the team to win it, but ultimately it boils down to whether we can glue the team together cohesively and perform admirably as a unit. If we do that, we can go all the way,” he said.
South Africa thrashed Australia 5-0 in the 2016/2017-season and Sri Lanka suffered the same humiliating fate on SA soil as the Proteas advanced to the number-1 position on the ICC rankings.
Ashwell Prince, a former South African veteran of 66 tests, says the Proteas possess the team on paper to win it.
They have allrounders which provide the top-order with even more licence to play an ultra-attacking game.
About two years ago, England were in a similar position with Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Jos Butler and Moeen Ali.
Now South Africa has Wayne Parnell, Andile Phehlukwayo, Morris, Dwaine Pretorius (and don’t forget the wicketkeeper and opening batsman Quinton de Kock). And those bowling allrounders are not merely useful batsmen.
“Wayne has scored two List A-centuries, Morris has performed well and Andile has played a number of very good innings. So you don’t have to be fearful that you will be left with 20 overs unaccounted for, as these players can all use the blade very well.
“But you have to show the resolve and not (mentally) rely on opposing teams to falter. Take the Masters tournament. Both Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia wanted it, but perhaps psychologically, Sergio’s tipping- or breaking point just happened later.
“He had the hunger and wanted it so badly (after 73 majors in which he failed to win a trophy),” said Prince. (The Spanish player’s 10-foot foot birdie putt at the first extra hole dropped into the cup at the par-four 18th and he subsequently received new green attire for winning the Augusta-event).
Prince said a never-say-die-spirit, and an unwillingness to blink first, is vital if South Africa wants to win it. He has no doubt about the world-class personnel and quality, he added.
Morkel said South Africa’s bowling attack also fills him with delight. In Imran Tahir they have the number-1 ranked bowler in the world (who claimed his first 100 ODI-wickets after only 58 appearances).
The Multiply Titans captain also saluted the quality of his younger brother, Morné. “I don’t think people realise just how good an ODI-bowler he is. Just look at his record. It speaks for itself.”
Morkel has claimed 181 wickets in 108 matches with an economy-rate of 4.95 and was a revelation at the 2015 Cricket World Cup. He needed only 59 matches to reach a century of scalps in the 50-over international format.
The lanky fast bowler was also the recipient of the Purple Cap at the Indian Premier League in 2012, when he struck 25 times.
Jimmy Cook, a former stalwart for Somerset who also represented South Africa at an advanced age, saluted South Africa’s planning.
“Just look at how many games they are playing in the build-up (five to be precise),” he said.
Cook liked the riches of South Africa’s all-round talent. He says although he has not watched Pretorius closely, his accuracy is a positive factor.
Morkel had a word of praise for Phehlukwayo, who nipped out eight wickets in his inaugural ODI-series against Australia, including a best of 4-44.
He said Phehlukwayo’s maturity and his approach is noteworthy. “If he receives the right support and mentoring from senior, experienced stars, he has the ability to become a match-winner and clinch games in solo for South Africa,” Morkel remarked.
The Proteas’ warm-up matches, ODI-series and three Champions Trophy Clashes in the group phase are (source: CSA’ press release):
Fri 19 May: 1-day Tour match v Sussex (D/N) 1st Central County Ground, Hove
Sun 21 May: 1-day Tour match v Northants - Northampton
Wed 24 May: 1st Royal London ODI (D/N) - Headingley, Leeds
Sat 27 May: 2nd Royal London ODI - Ageas Bowl, Southampton
Mon 29 May: 3rd Royal London ODI - Lord’s, London
Thu 1 – Mon 19 June ICC Champions Trophy
Sat 3 June: Sri Lanka v South Africa - The Oval, London
Wed 7 June: Pakistan v South Africa - Edgbaston, Birmingham
Sun 11 June: India v South Africa - The Oval, London