As so often happens when ICC tournaments begin, the big question hanging over South Africa is: will they choke in the knock-outs?
The C word has unfortunately become synonymous with South African cricket sides, for reasons that are well documented. Going into the 2012 ICC World Twenty20, the expectations are higher because South Africa are now the No. 1 ranked Twenty20 side; in fact they rule the roost in all three formats. South Africa have always been rated as one of the favourites in major ICC tournaments, but have only one piece of silverware to show – the inaugural Champions Trophy way back in 1998 in Bangladesh.
In the last three editions of the World Twenty20, South Africa have ultimately disappointed. In the first edition in 2007, South Africa failed to qualify for the semi-finals. In the last match where they needed a win badly but lost to India by 37 runs. Most embarrassingly, the tournament took place in South Africa and Graeme Smith’s team was playing in familiar conditions with a huge fan base.
It is time for South Africa to change the fortune in ICC major events.
In the second edition in 2009, South Africa made the semis but lost to Pakistan by seven runs. A year later in the West Indies, they again failed to reach the semis. This habit of stumbling when it matters most has haunted South Africa for two decades, most famously in the semi-finals of the 1999 World Cup. In what ranks as one of the most heart-breaking incidents in cricket history, Lance Klusener was run out against Australia in that ‘famous’ tied match and South Africa were eliminated from the tournament. Other famous examples include the 1996, 2003, 2007 and 2011 World Cups and the 2002 and 2009 Champions Trophies.
In 2012, South Africa are again are rated as one of the hot contenders for the title. They have a very formidable side, which has the ability to go all the way. With Richard Levi opening the innings, South Africa possess a swashbuckling talent as well as the owner of the fastest century in Twenty20 internationals. Throw in a red-hot Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers and you get a superb top four. With Albie Morkel to follow down the order, South Africa possess one of the biggest hitters of a cricket ball.
In their bowling department they have Dale Steyn, currently ranked at the top among all the bowlers. To support him with the new ball are Morne Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe, followed by experienced spinners in Johan Botha and Robin Peterson who both stand to feature heavily in the team’s fortunes in Sri Lankan conditions.
Coming off a long but successful tour of England, the physical challenge for de Villiers’ men will be to adjust to the conditions – the slow and sluggish pitches. But as crucial as conquering the conditions will be for South Africa to vanquish any demons in their heads. If they can do that, this could be the year they finally win an ICC trophy.