South Africa: Will the wait end here?

Having hosted the ICC World Twenty20 in 2007 and being seemingly content to watch the rest walk away with the trophies then and in the subsequent editions, the latest event offers another shot at redemption.

AB de Villiers can decimate any attack and South Africa is hugely dependant on him.   -  GETTY IMAGES

A fighting fit Dale Steyn will be good news for South Africa.   -  K. R. DEEPAK

South Africa gets yet another tilt at the silverware in an ICC event. Saddled with the inevitable melt-down in crunch games, taunted with the ‘chokers’ jibe and littered with a history of distraught captains trying their best to explain defeats in knock-out matches, the Proteas now have an opportunity to buck history and script a fresh yarn.

Having hosted the ICC World Twenty20 in 2007 and being seemingly content to watch the rest walk away with the trophies then and in the subsequent editions, the latest event offers another shot at redemption.

As in the past, on paper, South Africa has a potent mix. The batting core of skipper Faf du Plessis, the explosive AB de Villiers, JP Duminy and Hashim Amla besides Quinton de Kock, is a strong entity.

Rival skippers must be harassing their video analysts to spot one chink in de Villiers’ armour, such is his mastery of the chase, such is the disdain with which he treats required run-rates that zoom up.

But he too will know that a championship triumph is a non-negotiable requirement in his resume.

For instance in the Indian Premier League, de Villiers has often done the improbable, twice caning Steyn all over the park but somehow, he and Royal Challengers Bangalore have not won the title.

When de Villiers sets foot in India again ahead of the ICC World Twenty20, he will be aware that in a country that loves him as its own, thanks largely to his heroics with RCB, it is time to deliver the big cherry.

He has already hinted about a tired body rebelling against a packed schedule all through the year but for now, he has to cast aside those gremlins of doubt and also hope that the supporting cast wouldn’t always leave him with the task of pulling the chestnuts out of the fire.

Thanks largely to the constant exposure through the IPL, a fair share of South Africans are well-versed with the conditions in India and that knowledge needs to be reflected in their strategies. The batting seems in order while the bowling needs to shore up. Steyn, coming back from an injury-induced hiatus, will be watched.

With his searing pace, he can test even the best despite the pitches being on the slower side. Yet, a worry remains. The spearhead tends to get one-dimensional in Twenty20s and often loses the plot when struck around the ground. Steyn can stay incisive if he mixes up his deliveries.

Steyn, Kyle Abbott and Kagiso Rabada comprise a brisk pace attack. The only thing that needs to be known is whether the trio can keep its head when the batsmen roar. It is another matter that the Morkels — Albie and Morne — have been sidelined. The spin-quotient hinging on Imran Tahir and Aaron Phangiso needs to do a holding job.

At times, the South African attack also suffers in a weird way as opposition teams feel that no total is safe as long as the Proteas have de Villiers. That morbid fear means an extra round of lashing for Steyn and company!

There is one facet where the South Africans are almost second to none — fielding. If they can stick to their strengths with de Villiers peaking at the right time, an ICC trophy might finally adorn the Cricket South Africa cabinet in April. But before that a tough group consisting of England, West Indies, Sri Lanka and a qualifier, has to be tided past!

The team:

Faf du Plessis (capt), Kyle Abbott, Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, Quinton de Kock, A. B. de Villiers, JP Duminy, Imran Tahir, David Miller, Chris Morris, Aaron Phangiso, Kagiso Rabada, Rilee Rossouw, Dale Steyn and David Wiese.

Players to watch out for:

A. B. de Villiers: Perhaps the most incandescent sight in cricket is the manner in which A. B. de Villiers dismantles bowlers and pooh-poohs tough chases. Back in India, which has a cricketing and personal resonance — he proposed to his girlfriend near the Taj Mahal — for him, de Villiers with a 128.88 strike-rate in Twenty20 Internationals, will determine how far South Africa advances.

Dale Steyn: South Africa’s pace-ace may have had emerged second-best in some of his duels with de Villiers in the IPL, but there is no denying the impact he can have when he is on rhythm and breathing fire. Steyn may struggle at the death but in his opening spells, if he can negate the meanest of openers, South Africa will be well served. Importantly, he has to also prove that he is back to prime fitness.