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Miller, Klaasen key as SA look to shrug off nearly-men tag

Injuries to Nortje and Magala have messed with the balance of the bowling attack

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
World Cup pedigree
One of the contenders for the best team to have never won a World Cup, South Africa enter many tournaments believing their time has finally come only to discover their clocks are ticking to a different rhythm. After missing the first four tournaments because of international isolation of the Apartheid regime, South Africa first competed in 1992 and immediately impressed with a semi-final finish and the calculation that changed the way weather-affected matches were decided. They have since reached five knockout stages in seven tournaments but have never made the final.
Their best chances of winning the World Cup came in 1999, 2011 and 2015, when they reached the knockouts and played their part in some of the game's biggest heartbreak. But their reputation as perennial nearly-men belies the more recent truth that they have not played good enough tournament cricket to become champions. South Africa suffered their worst tournament return in 2019, when they lost five of their nine group matches and were out of contention for the semi-finals with three matches left to play. Ottis Gibson's contract was not renewed in the aftermath and they have since been through a massive administrative overhaul as well as three different captains and coaching regimes.
Recent form
South Africa were the last automatic qualifiers to the tournament and snuck into the top eight after beating England and Netherlands earlier this year. But then they spent five months out of action in a throwback to when cricket was still played seasonally and returned to action with little more than a month to go before the World Cup. They started off with five straight defeats across white-ball formats to Australia but then surged back to win the series 3-2, and beat Australia by more than 100 runs in each of those three victories. In the process, Anrich Nortje suffered a lower-back injury and Sisanda Magala picked up a left-knee niggle which has derailed South Africa's plans to unleash six seamers at the tournament.
Temba Bavuma (capt), Gerald Coetzee, Quinton de Kock (wk), Reeza Hendricks, Marco Jansen, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Lungi Ngidi, Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi, Rassie van der Dussen, Lizaad Williams, Andile Phehlukwayo
Key player(s)
A melty middle-order, especially under pressure, has been the cause of several of South Africa's previous tournament blow-outs so Heinrich Klaasen and David Miller will have a particularly important role. Happily for South Africa, Klaasen is in the form of his life, with two ODI hundreds this year, and an average of 58.55, but crucially a strike rate of 151.43. He has also hit 25 sixes in that time, the most by any South African. Miller's wealth of experience in India, which includes winning the title with Gujarat Titans last year, means South Africa have the personnel to tackle what has usually been a tricky period in the innings.
Rising star
Gerald Coetzee was included in the squad with just two ODI caps to his name and ahead of experienced allrounder Wayne Parnell because of his pace. Coetzee can crank it up to around 145kph, has a menacing short ball and is handy as a lower-order hitter. If there is a concern around him, it may be the worry of inconsistency.
World Cup farewells?
Quinton de Kock announced his decision to step away from ODI cricket at the end of the tournament and will continue to pursue a T20 career around the world, including at international level, but he is likely not the only one playing his last ODIs. Seven other members of South Africa's 15-player squad are over 32 which suggests they are unlikely to make it to another World Cup. None of Temba Bavuma, Rassie van der Dussen, Reeza Hendricks, Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, Keshav Maharaj or Tabraiz Shamsi have indicated what their long-term fifty-over future looks like but there is every chance this could be their last dance in the format.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket