Team preview: South Africa September 4, 2007

Home is where the art is

South Africa have the ideal balance to do well on their turf. By Andrew McGlashan



Old dog Pollock may have an important role to play with both ball and bat © AFP

South Africa's build-up has been dogged by the controversy surrounding Jacques Kallis' omission from the squad, his subsequent resignation from the vice-captaincy, and Mark Boucher's forceful comments in support of Kallis. The World Championship will be an expensive affair for Boucher, who will lose half his match fee for every game due to his outburst, but if South Africa's squad overcome the many clashes of politics and personalities and present an united front, they have the ideal balance to do well on home soil.

They have dipped into the domestic scene for the likes of Gulam Bodi and Johan van der Wath, but have retained Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini and Justin Kemp, key players from their 50-over side.

The last time a major international tournament was staged in South Africa, the 2003 World Cup, the hosts went out in embarrassing fashion by misreading Duckworth-Lewis. A good run in this tournament would be a timely boost and provide a positive start to an important season.

Home truths
After the domestic scene in England, South Africa's Pro20 is the most thriving version of the game. It started in 2003-04, and the crowds have steadily grown to heights not seen for domestic games since the ban on international cricket during the apartheid years forced people to watch provincial matches. Last season there was even a sell-out at the Wanderers, while the franchises have taken the "entertainment" aspect of Pro20 seriously by providing various sideshows, ranging from cheerleaders to water slides. The Lions are the current domestic champions.

Strengths
Home advantage can provide South Africa with a headstart, especially since they have had three ODIs in Zimbabwe to warm up, and should be able to adapt to early-season conditions quicker than the other teams.

Since South Africa rely too much on pace, the attack is susceptible to an opening onslaught by good batsmen. They often find it hard to claw their way back into the game because of the lack of good spin options

Ian Chappell

The top order is where the power lies. Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers and Herschelle Gibbs are capable of winning matches off their own bats. Pollock, van der Wath and Vernon Philander provide depth.

Fielding has always been a strong suit, and with Gibbs and de Villiers prowling the covers there will be potential for match-turning moments of brilliance.

Weaknesses
However hard they try, it is well-nigh impossible for South Africa to shake the "chokers" tag, especially after their implosion against Australia in St Lucia. There is potential for another semi-final meeting against Australia, but at least in Twenty20 there is less time to be psyched-out by the opposition.

Their lack of spinners is a perennial issue and now, though they have thrown the promising offspinner Thandi Tshabalala in at the deep end, he is still a work in progress. Twenty20 is a tough place to learn. If he doesn't make the starting XI, the attack will be very one-dimensional, although Graeme Smith and JP Duminy provide slow-bowling options.

Players to watch
Graeme Smith The leading international Twenty20 batsman with 259 runs in five matches, a strike-rate of 138, and three half-centuries. His career-best 89 not out came off 58 balls against Australia, in a match were South Africa actually held their nerve to secure a two-run win. Earlier this year against Pakistan in Johannesburg, he took the attack apart with 71 off 40 balls. His captaincy under pressure will also be vital.

Shaun Pollock Given that he is in the twilight of his career, Pollock would have been forgiven if he wanted to sidestep the helter-skelter world of Twenty20. But he has fronted up to his responsibilities as a key allrounder, and has a senior role in an attack consisting of a number of inexperienced bowlers. It will be fascinating to see how he adjusts, but when the flak is flying he'll be an important safety valve. His batting is just as important these days, and don't be surprised to see him shunted up the order.



AB de Villiers will be expected to produce moments of match-turning brilliance © AFP

Dark horse
Albie Morkel One of a clutch of young allrounders in South African cricket, Morkel has been rated highly for a number of seasons. His versatile game is well suited to Twenty20 and his 97 against Zimbabwe last month showed what he offers with the bat. He is one of the more experienced domestic Twenty20 players, with 26 matches under his belt and an acceptable economy-rate of 7.7. Also watch out for his brother Morne, who is very quick and one for the future.

Ian Chappell's take
Despite their competitiveness and athleticism in the field, South Africa impress as a team who are more known for their words than their deeds. They also have a very one-dimensional attack and approach to the game: they rely too heavily on pace and containment as their main avenue for keeping their opponents in check. There's no doubt that they have some brilliant individual players, but they struggle to put it together as a team. The last time they played a major tournament in South Africa - the 2003 World Cup - they succumbed to the high expectations of hometown support.

Since they rely too much on pace, the attack is susceptible to an opening onslaught by good batsmen. They often find it hard to claw their way back into the game because of the lack of good spin options. Similarly, their batsmen can be reined in by good spin options, which means that they are fortunate Australia and Sri Lanka are in the other group of four in the Super Eights section.

In batting they will be reliant on good scores from Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs to put opponents under pressure. If those two fail, a lot will fall on the shoulders of Mark Boucher, now that Jacques Kallis' secure technique is not there to provide a middle-order security blanket.

They badly need Makhaya Ntini to take early wickets and Shaun Pollock to do his usual containing job, and while they'll miss Andre Nel's aggression, his replacement, Morne Morkel, has the makings of a very good cricketer.

I'll be surprised if South Africa make the semi-finals, and even this goal will be well beyond them if they remain uptight in front of the home crowd. Rating: 6/10

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer on Cricinfo

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