A great part of the fascination for sports is about the numbers and statistics that are part and parcel of modern day sports. In the deluge of such numbers, it becomes all the more important to not lose sight of the “relevance” and context of such numbers. One of the important factors that give significance to the stats would be the context of the game or significance of the match in the grand scheme of things. Death overs, early wickets, Big matches – Knock-out matches.
Cricket World Cup and Knock-out matches – what is the first team that comes to your mind? I’m sure an overwhelming majority of cricket fans will answer unanimously South Africa. In 1999, it was a monkey on their back, in 2003 it became the big gorilla in the room. In 2011, it became the elephant in the room and in 2015 – it has become the room itself. There is no escaping this fact. 23 years and 11 World Cups in 2 different formats later, South Africa have exactly 0 knock out match wins to show. To put it in the nicest of terms, they seem to be not able to win Big matches!
In this period, the Big 3 Asian teams have won the ODI and T20 World Cup one time each. West Indies have won a World Cup (in T20 format) and even (apologies any English fans who follow ODI/T20 cricket!) England have won a World Cup. This after South Africa entering each World Cup (save 1992) as the outright favorites or at the very least co-favorites. The only international team with comparable pedigree and similar record is New Zealand. However, in New Zealand’s case they rarely enter into global events with the short odds that the Proteas invariably enter the big events with.
That then, is the bad news. The good news for South African cricket team and their fans is that they have a team that is more comfortable with the favorites tag than its predecessors were – having experienced this status for a while now in Test Cricket. South African fans will be hoping their team can put the lessons learnt in the other formats to good use on the game’s biggest stage. To do so, however, South Africa will have to ensure they get through the group stage with relatively less damage. With the team they have, that is almost a given. They have, arguably, the two best batsmen on the planet, right now, in AB Devilliers and Hashim Amla. Their bowling attack – led by the super talented Dale Steyn, is definitely a potent force even in the ODI format. Their fielding, you ask? This is South Africa we are talking about people!
To say Amla and Devilliers are in the form of their lives, would be an understatement. They have averages upwards of 50 and strike rates hovering around 90. They are at the zenith of their careers and so far they have made good use of their form to put up staggering number of runs at almost a run a ball. They will have considerable support from DeKock, Du Plessis and Duminy, – 3 batsman completely capable of dominating the opponents’ best plan on their day and then there is David Miller. At the risk of jinxing, I would ask “How can a team NOT win a world cup with this batting line-up”. There is an echo in the room…..
With the conditions aiding fast bowling predominantly, and the bouncy pitches being most similar to South African conditions than anywhere else in the world, one could make a case that this might be the ideal situation for South Africa – with home like conditions, yet no weight of expectations that come with playing at home. With all that has happened in their last 24 years of ODI, this does seem like South Africa’s best chance – but then we have been here before. Multiple times. Will this be the World Cup where South Africa break through? Your guess is as good as mine. I definitely see them winning their first knock-out match. And then, as they say when it rains……