While India, New Zealand and England have been sashaying their way through the World Cup, West Indies, Pakistan and Bangladesh have had their moments, and Sri Lanka have lain low, the two teams to face off in Cardiff have been outdoing each other at the crapalympics. Neither has won a game yet. Both have been rocked by off-field selection-related controversy. There have been retirement threats, injuries, press conferences that felt like interrogations, underwhelming performances galore, and a whole lot of soul-searching. South Africa and Afghanistan are ninth and tenth on the points table respectively. Their campaigns, so far, have been as miserable as the weather. Almost.
The injuries - to Dale Steyn, Lungi Ngidi, Mohammad Shahzad and Rashid Khan - have been unfortunate, but neither team can say their other problems are not at least somewhat self-inflicted. AB de Villiers had attempted to waltz into the World Cup team after having devoted himself exclusively to franchise T20s over the past year, but is it any surprise that he was bold enough to make the request? Even before his retirement, he had essentially been allowed to treat South Africa commitments like offerings at a hotel buffet - dipping into some series, turning his nose up at others, little explanation given as to why or why not. On the field at the actual World Cup, meanwhile, they have played meekly - their innings rarely not in crisis, their bowlers - Kagiso Rabada excepted - some distance from their best.
Afghanistan have at times appeared to be in even more serious disarray. Asghar Afghan was sacked as captain in the months leading up to the World Cup - a decision that was met with serious protest by some in the team. Then, after the team sent Shahzad home after his knee injury failed to heal, the player declared himself fit, then threatened to rage-quit the game on account of being either overlooked or sent packing from two successive World Cups. That there is some controversy surrounding Shahzad is unsurprising given his history, but nevertheless, this was Afghanistan's top ODI run-scorer. To replace him, they had to bring in a specialist wicketkeeper against New Zealand, which in turn forced them to play with one fewer bowler.
Expectations of Afghanistan were always lower than they were of South Africa, of course, so perhaps their campaign is not threatening train-wreck territory in the same way their opposition's is. Perhaps they haven't imposed themselves on the tournament properly yet (though they did come close against Sri Lanka), but they have also not had the kinds of tracks they needed in order to prosper. In Bristol, Cardiff and Taunton, pitches have suited the quicks and largely neutralised their major spin threats. They are hoping Saturday's track in Cardiff is more to Rashid and Mohammad Nabi's liking.
"In the last three games they, didn't help the spinners," captain Gulbadin Naib said. "It doesn't matter if this ground is smaller - if the boundary is 50 or 60 metres. If the ball turns, Rashid and Nabi have a lot of potential on it."
Rashid is in any case Afghanistan's most potent weapon, but against South Africa he could be especially effective. That wristspinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal devastated South Africa's middle order a little over a week ago will have escaped no one's notice. Not least that of South Africa captain Faf du Plessis, who was bowled by legspinner Chahal in the midst of a collapse that claimed three wickets for 11 runs.
"What's clear in the world of cricket now is that you can't call teams minnows, because they have the ability and the players in the dressing room to change a game," du Plessis said. "You need two or three guys to stand up and win you a game. They've got those players. Rashid Khan is probably the standout for them. He's proven in T20 cricket that he's probably the best legspinner in the world.
"In 50-over cricket it gives him a bit more time but you also don't have to attack him as much. So it's really important for us to make sure that the learnings, the players who've played against him in the IPL have got - that we share that knowledge in the dressing room and make sure we annihilate that threat."
If Rashid does contribute to an upset, South Africa's misery will not only be extended, they will have sunk to a low that is almost unprecedented for a South Africa team at a World Cup - virtual no-hopers before the tournament is even halfway done. South Africa need a victory in Cardiff to overcome their inertia. So too their opponents, if maybe not quite as much.