World T20 2014 March 21, 2014

Can young South Africa lay jinx to rest?


The song is sung, the words are worn, the record is broken. But we will say it one more time because we have to: this is South Africa's chance to claim a major trophy. Just as it was last year at the Champions Trophy, the year before that at the World T20, the year before that at the fifty-over World Cup and the year before that at another World T20.

They didn't then, so many wonder how they will now.

Heading to a competition with the toxic mix of expectation that they might win and resignation that they won't is far from motivating, which is why finding inspiration will be South Africa's biggest battle at this competition. It's a tough ask for a team that has been through a summer of upheaval. Although neither Graeme Smith nor Jacques Kallis would have played in this event, their retirements in the space of three months has forced South African cricket to embrace change far quicker than it is comfortable with. In this tournament, that change is not in personnel terms but in mindset.

With Smith, Kallis and Gary Kirsten no longer permanently part of South Africa's set-up, the transition is on. The South African public are talking about a younger, albeit less experienced side, who are not weighed down by the hurt of major tournaments past. That many of them still are is brushed off because of the wholescale differences in team composition and management.

Russell Domingo's tenure as head coach is now nine months old and he is expected to produce the baby. In reality, he has been in charge of this format since December 2012. He has been with this side for long enough to ensure they can walk on their feet but whether they can run at the pace needed to win a major tournament will only be known on April 6. If they can't, the same song will begin again.

Key players

He is no longer the captain and he has been relieved of the wicket-keeping gloves but AB de Villiers remains South Africa's most important player. With a range of shots that he seems to invent according to mood or conditions, de Villiers can snatch games from opposition's grasps. But he will only be able to do that if he is batting in the right position and at the right time. Ideally, de Villiers should be in as early as possible in order to face as many balls that are available to him but South Africa are intent on batting him at No.4 or lower. That means he either comes in with the team under the pump with two down cheaply or with not enough time to wield his magic. If used correctly, though, de Villiers can be destructive.

South Africa also want a demolition man in the bowling department and they will look to Imran Tahir for that. Although not a regular member of their limited-overs teams in the last few years, the memory of Tahir's impressive outing at the 2011 World Cup is still fresh. He ended as South Africa's second-highest wicket-taker, with 14 scalps, and the best average of all bowlers who took more than three wickets. In similar subcontinental conditions, South Africa will hope for a similar result from him.

Surprise package

After an 18-month hiatus from the national side, Albie Morkel was recalled to the South African squad on the back of a handful of eye-catching performances in the domestic T20 competition. Morkel was not among the top 15 run-scorers - he was 18th, with only one half-century to his name, or grouped with the highest wicket-takers, listed 45th on the charts with just two wickets from 10 matches - but he was picked nonetheless. Isolated showings, like his 49 off 25 balls against the Warriors and experience at the IPL was what prompted the selectors to put faith in Morkel as their "x-factor," player and they will hope he can turn in a match-winning showing when needed.

Weakness oh nevermind, you know all about that.

Apart from the lack of mental strength to perform under pressure that seems to only affect South Africa at major tournaments, they do have a few other concerns. Injuries have crept up on South Africa more than usual in the last few series and its impact on their fast bowling department has been noticeable.

Dale Steyn struggled throughout the Tests against Australia, first with illness and then a hamstring strain, which kept him out of the T20s. He also required extended rest during the domestic T20 competition, which means he has not played in this format since November last year. Morne Morkel has battled with a shoulder problem which also meant he was benched for the matches against Australia. The absence of the pace pair left South Africa vulnerable, highlighting how heavily they rely on them and how much they will need them fit and firing in this competition.

World T20 history

Like the other major ICC event - the 50-over World Cup - this is a tournament South Africa have never won. The closest they've got is the semi-final in 2009 which means it is also a tournament in which they have never won a knockout match, despite promising initial forays into the World T20.

In 2007, South Africa were victorious in both their first round matches and two of their three second-round fixtures to give them four triumphs on the trot. Their only stumble was against India but that was a must-win encounter and they were promptly booted out at home.

Two years later, South Africa were similarly dominant, until it mattered most. They won all their first and second round games but ran into a rampant Shahid Afridi in the semi-final to end what looked like a run to the trophy.

South Africa dropped off after that. At the 2010 event, they lost their opening group stage match against India and two of their three second-round games to limp out before the final four. But they saved the worst for last. In 2012, after winning the first two matches, they lost all three of the Super Eight games to return home empty-handed again.

Recent form

South Africa's build up to this event started when Domingo took over as head coach last July. They returned to the place where they limped out of the last World T20 - Sri Lanka - and after losing the ODI series 4-1, bounced back to win the series 2-1. They swept the two-match series against South Africa in the UAE in November and preparations seemed on track. But a shared home series against Pakistan and a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Australia to end the home summer raised questions about South Africa's readiness for this competition.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent