A well-rounded squad

Dale Steyn... the tearaway fast bowler is usually too hot to handle.-AP

South Africa will need to exorcise the ghosts of the past as it takes another crack at the elusive World Cup. A look back at the previous editions just brings back bad memories for the Proteas.

The South Africans, despite undoubted ability, have always stumbled in the big moment of knockout competitions, thus rightly acquiring the tag of “chokers”.

Traumatised by Steve Waugh and Shane Warne in the 1999 World Cup — a promising campaign came to a stuttering halt after some panic running in the semifinal — South Africa got the Duckworth and Lewis calculations hopelessly wrong in 2003.

The subsequent World Cups have not brought much joy either. An ageing Glenn McGrath punctured the side’s hopes in 2007. And in 2011, the South Africans could not find an answer to the sub-continental conundrum.

But the team for long has been the cricket fans’ sentimental favourite. World over, the multitude still sympathise with its shocking rain-rule-induced semifinals defeat in 1992.

The South African team, over the years, has been filled with multi-dimensional cricketers. The 2015 team, though, has fewer all-rounders, but is packed with quite a few exceptional cricketers, well capable of turning the course of a game. Skipper AB de Villiers — a game-changing batsman, a brilliant all-round fielder, who can even keep wickets — is perhaps the most dynamic cricketer in this South African line-up. A thinking captain, de Villiers leads to the antipodes a strong team that has the potential to go all the way.

Very few teams have as much firepower in batting. Besides de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Jean-Paul Duminy, David Miller and Rilee Rossouw are all explosive strikers of the ball. Lending stability to the batting will be the influential Hashim Amla with his silken smooth strokeplay. Quinton de Kock is another busy batsman, who can bat through the innings apart from being a very capable wicketkeeper.

The side also has one of the most potent pace attacks, led by the mercurial Dale Steyn. His speed, control and movement will test most batsmen in the competition. The lanky Morne Morkel can extract disconcerting lift. Venron Philander’s two-way swing can fetch the side early breakthroughs. Left-arm seamer Wayne Parnell, if picked in the eleven, can lend variety to the line-up. This attack can pose searching questions to every batsman.

The South African pace pack will be helped by the use of two white Kookaburra balls from either ends during the tournament.

And although Steyn can bend it the other way, this is a team that relies more on conventional swing than reverse.

Imran Tahir’s leg-spin could prove handy to a side, whose attack has been rather one-dimensional in the past. He has a fizzy wrong ‘un. The steady Aaron Phangiso, who has made a name for himself in T20 cricket, is the left-arm spin option. Duminy, an under-rated off-spinner, can also pitch in.

The team should make it to the last eight without a fuss. The testing times will arrive thereafter. Can this South African side put mind over matter when it really counts?

* * * STRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES

Bowlers might worry about their figures while bowling against this heavy-hitting South African line-up. The team could be particularly dangerous during the crucial batting power plays, with the likes of AB de Villiers, David Miller, Jean-Paul Duminy and Faf du Plessis wading into the attack. The side also has a good mix of the right and the left-handers, a factor that could disrupt the line of the bowlers.

South Africa has players, who can control and guide an innings, batting through early tough conditions and then putting their foot on the accelerator.

The team's pace attack can be incisive. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel are among the premier pace combinations of this era. South Africa, though, can be undone by the alarming tendency to buckle under pressure. In previous editions of the World Cup the team has been a bundle of nerves during knockout encounters. Hence, despite its wealth of talent the Proteas have never made it to a World Cup final. If Imran Tahir fails to find form and rhythm, the South African team will also be a lightweight in the spin department.

* * * PLAYERS TO WATCH

AB de Villiers: He can innovate, create and disrupt the length of the bowlers in the process. AB can harness the pace of the ball for delicate strokes and also thump the cherry through the field or strike it into the stands. The `Dilscoop', the switch-hit, the reverse-sweep and the jab over slips. there is never a dull moment when he is at the crease. And he can alter scripts with a moment of brilliance on the field too.

Hashim Amla: This elegant righthander is wristy, composed and elegant. He is also someone who can conquer the conditions if South Africa runs into rough weather. Amla, like many exceptional batsmen, has this precious ability to coax the ball through the empty spaces between fielders. South Africa will seek stability and momentum from Amla.

Faf du Plessis: His versatility is his strength. Faf du Plessis can dismiss the ball ruthlessly to the different corners of the arena. He also has a sound defence that will help him to bat through if his team is ever in crisis. In a World Cup where the pacemen can make considerable inroads, du Plessis' technique and strength of mind are his assets.

Dale Steyn: Presently, this South African is the Sultan of seam and swing. There is very little that Steyn cannot do with the ball. His control is such that he will be a threat in every spell, during different stages of the innings. This scalp hunter should make for a compelling sight as he thunders in Down Under. Dismissing batsmen is the best method to contain them and Steyn perfectly demonstrates that.

* * * THE TEAM

AB de Villiers (captain), Hashim Amla, Kyle Abbott, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock (wicketkeeper), Jean-Paul Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Aaron Phangiso, Vernon Philander, Rilee Rossouw and Dale Steyn.

S. Dinakar