Champions Trophy Preview – South Africa

Captain – AB de Villiers

Dangerman – AB de Villiers

Along with Indian superstar Virat Kohli, de Villiers is the player most likely to pull the crowds into non-England matches in this tournament.   No.1 in the ICC ODI rankings coming into the tournament, AB is capable of things barely plausible before his arrival to international cricket in 2004 as a twenty-year-old.

He recently became the fastest man to 9000 ODI runs by overtaking Saurav Ganguly’s thirteen-year record, and three years ago blasted a memorable 31-ball century against the West Indies at the Wanderers, Johannesburg.  He also holds the record for the fastest ODI 50 (16 balls) and 150 (64).  Straight off the back of the IPL, his natural ball-striking ability is potentially the single biggest attribute South Africa have in their not insignificant armoury going into the competition.

Why they’re a Threat

Onlookers may find it odd how South Africa are not the heavy favourites for the title.  Currently top of the ICC ODI rankings, they have won their last seven ODI series on the bounce, and had won 12 consecutive matches until New Zealand halted them in Christchurch in February.

Along with the best ODI batsman in the world, they also have the number one ranked ODI bowler in Imran Tahir, and he will be backed up by a powerful seam attack including Kagiso Rabada and the fit-again Morne Morkel, as well as all-rounder Chris Morris, who is capable of some huge lower order hitting.  They are regularly the best all-round unit in the competition.  Even without the talismanic Dale Steyn, whose failure to recover from shoulder surgery in time for this tournament sees him left out, this time is no different.

Achilles’ Heel

Pressure, pressure, pressure.  Even armchair cricket fans know that South Africa are capable of pulling out a flawless impression of a rabbit in the headlights as soon as the thermometer passes above room temperature.

The list is extensive.  Karachi in ’96, Headingley and Edgbaston in ’99, basic maths in 2003, and Dhakka in 2011.  There’s a fair few more that could be added, but all of the above games were knockout matches that were perfectly winnable but for last minute chokes.   South Africa have always been a major force in one-day international cricket, but the longer this horrendous tag stays with them, the harder it is for them to shake it off.

Last Time?

South Africa sneaked into the semi-finals in 2013 after a D/L affected tie with the West Indies saw them through on net run rate by the skin of their teeth.  However, they were still seen as a tough task for England in the last four.

On the day, they were simply blown away by England’s pace attack after they were put in by Alastair Cook, and soon found themselves 80-8 in the 23rd over.  It is debatable whether this was one of South Africa’s finest chokes, or whether they simply got beaten by a superior team at a humid Kennington Oval.  Either way they crashed out with typical aplomb in the latter stages of the competition.

Look out for Chances?

County cricket board members sniffing about their team hotels trying to extend the long list of Kolpak signings this year.  The likes of Kyle Abbott and Rilee Roussow shook South African cricket early in 2017 when they defected to join the county championship.  Abbott’s impact on Hampshire’s first season back in Division 1 may well serve as a testing reminder of what can be achieved by taking advantage of the controversial loophole.

If certain South African players have a big tournament, don’t be surprised to hear the rumour mill sparking into life by the end of June.

Odds

4/1 – Third favourites (Betfair)

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