SA aiming to end the title drought

With players of the calibre of AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla, and a bowling attack that is among the best in the world, South Africa has the team to bring home the Champions Trophy.

Strike force... fast bowler Kagiso Rabada is expected to do well in the English conditions.   -  Getty Images

South Africa. ICC tournament. What comes to your mind when you read the two words?

Allan Donald, stumbling, scrambling and running without a bat to see himself run out from the middle of the Edgbaston pitch in 1999?

Shaun Pollock, shocked, shattered and sad, following showers and misunderstood mathematics at Kingsmead in 2003?

ICC Champions Trophy schedule

Or more recently, in Auckland in 2015, of Dale Steyn collapsing on the pitch after failing to defend 12 runs in the last over?

Or are you reminded of that six-letter word that starts with a ‘c’, which has haunted South Africa in every ICC tournament since 1999?

READ: South Africa pursues great obsession

Only a year before that fateful day in Edgbaston, South Africa, surrounded by 40,000 raucous spectators in the sweltering heat of Dhaka, beat a strong West Indies to win the 1998 Wills International Cup — its first-ever global trophy, and its last.

AB de Villiers: South Africa upbeat

South Africa has since played in five editions of the World Cup, six editions each of the World T20 and the Champions Trophy but has no big-stage success to show. Despite consistently producing some of the best cricket talents in the world, South Africa has been suffering a 19-year major title drought.

This time, too, South Africa has the team to bring home the Champions Trophy. Four of its batsmen — Quinton de Kock, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla — are in the top 11 of the ICC rankings.

De Kock, at 24, is on the escalator to greatness. And his reputation as a fine wicketkeeper-batsman is only growing. In Tests and ODIs, over the last two years, he has averaged over 50. He swept away almost all the accolades at the Cricket South Africa awards a few weeks ago.

Amla found form in the Indian Premier League and made big runs, including two centuries, for Kings XI Punjab. Du Plessis played only two games for Rising Pune Supergiant in this IPL but South African cricket’s crisis man can cause a carnage, like the 185 he scored against Sri Lanka in Cape Town earlier this year.

Then, there is that guy, that cricketing freak, AB de Villiers, with whom the possibilities are endless. A back injury set him back, and he didn’t score a lot of runs in the IPL, but the skipper is sure of himself.

“I’m not worried, I had a few decent knocks (in the IPL)... I started off really well and four games later I had a decent game again,” de Villiers said.

“I always felt in good form. I’m not too worried about it honestly, I’m really excited to move forward, I’m hitting the ball as well as ever, so I think there are some big scores to come.”

If they do, then South Africa would need little else to win games for it.

De Villiers also has at his disposal a bowling attack that is among the best in the world. The pace attack, with Kagiso Rabada, Morne Morkel et al, has enough ammunition to compensate for Dale Steyn’s absence. This will be young Rabada’s first trip to England, where the conditions usually suit the pacers. But, of late, the pitches at the Oval, Cardiff and Edgbaston — the venues for the Champions Trophy — have often produced totals in excess of 300 in ODIs. Also, Rabada and Co., unlike their counterparts, will be staying back in England for a four-Test series and can’t afford to exhaust everything at the Champions Trophy itself; they will have to be at their best for the next three months.

If the pitches are similar to those of the 2013 tournament, in which Ravindra Jadeja finished as the leading wicket-taker, Imran Tahir, the world’s best limited-overs bowler, and Keshav Maharaj will play an important role in stifling the scoring in the middle overs.

It was in England where the South Africans faced their first humiliation. It was England which knocked them out in the last Champions Trophy. To England they go again to end their ICC trophy drought.

The squad

AB de Villiers (Captain), Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock, Jean-Paul Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, Keshav Maharaj, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Wayne Parnell, Andile Phehlukwayo, Dwaine Pretorius and Kagiso Rabad.

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