A look at England’s opening World Cup opponents South Africa
The Proteas come into the tournament under the radar despite boasting several of the world’s best players.
England’s bid to win a first World Cup starts when they tackle South Africa at the Oval on Thursday.
Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at the Proteas ahead of the tournament’s curtain-raiser.
Since readmission in 1992, South Africa have gained an unwanted reputation for flat-lining at the worst possible moment, leading to a ‘chokers’ tag that has been liberally used since a farcical run out between Lance Klusener and Allan Donald deprived them of a spot in the final 20 years ago. Among the favourites in the last edition, they have slipped under the radar this time around, the seismic absence of the retired AB De Villiers a clear factor in this case. However, under the steely eyed leadership of Faf Du Plessis and with a number of threats in their 15-man party more than capable of rising to the occasion, South Africa have strong claims to progress beyond the group stage, although a first ever appearance in the final could be beyond them.
Quinton De Kock: South Africa will be dependent on their baby-faced wicketkeeper-batsman setting the tempo at the top of the innings. Free-flowing at his best, there will be inevitable comparisons with England counterpart Jos Buttler, who holds the whip hand when it comes to jaw-dropping explosiveness but it is De Kock who is the more consistent of the pair. Still only 26, De Kock’s 14 one-day international hundreds can not be bettered by anyone in England’s history – only Joe Root is level with him – and he is averaging 58.62 in eight ODIs this year following a mini-slump in form. The left-hander warmed up for the World Cup by top-scoring for Mumbai Indians in their march to Indian Premier League glory.
If everyone is fit and firing on all cylinders then South Africa have a balanced bowling attack that will be the envy of many squads. Fiery paceman Kagiso Rabada and wily leg-spinner Imran Tahir occupy places in the top five of the International Cricket Council’s ODI bowling rankings and with good reason. Dale Steyn remains a class act and is one of six members of the squad to have played more than 100 ODIs, meaning they should not lack for experience. Confidence, too, should be flowing after triumphing in each of their last five ODI series under the guidance of head coach Ottis Gibson, a connoisseur of conditions on these isles following two stints as England’s bowling guru.
In a tournament where scores could climb north of 350 on a regular basis, South Africa’s batting unit looks a little light. Much will therefore depend on how De Kock and Hashim Amla fare at the top of the order while Du Plessis may shoulder a heavy burden. Amla has temporarily quietened talk of decline in his batting with half-centuries in South Africa’s warm-ups against Sri Lanka and West Indies after averaging 28.63 in 11 ODIs last year. Belligerent left-hander David Miller and all-rounders Andile Phehlukwayo and JP Duminy will be counted upon to provide the requisite firepower towards the end of the innings.