Despite being strong favourites on many occasions, the South Africans have fallen short at ICC events in the past
Mention the words “ICC event” and “South Africa” in the same sentence, and you’re likely to get a wince from a South African fan and a roll of the eyes if you’re speaking to a neutral spectator.
At nearly every ICC Cricket World Cup or ICC World Twenty20 event that it has been part of, South Africa has been a strong favourite. And yet, after six 50-over events and three 20-over tournaments, the trophy cupboard remains almost bare. The only ICC event it has won was the ICC Champions Trophy in 1998.
It has had bad luck, but successive South African teams have failed to escape being branded with unwanted labels, due to its inability to win on the big stage. It comes into the ICC World Twenty20 2012 with, on paper, all the skills necessary to win it, and a good run-up, having won the Test series, and tied the One-Day International and Twenty20 International series in England.
It has AB de Villiers, among the best wicketkeeper-batsmen in the world, leading it. He has a team that has most bases covered, with the lack of a match-winning spinner the only glaring shortcoming for a tournament that will be played on pitches where slow bowlers have thrived.
However, the spinners it does have, Johan Botha and Robin Peterson, are both also capable of valuable contributions with the bat. South Africa’s main bowling firepower will come from the pacers, led by Dale Steyn. Universally acknowledged as the world’s best fast bowler, Steyn is no stranger to subcontinent conditions or success. He hasn’t yet bowled in Sri Lanka in an ODI or a T20I, but in his most recent Twenty20 outing in the subcontinent, he was among the bowling stars in the Indian Premier League 2012.
With Morne Morkel partnering Steyn and the allround skills of Jacques Kallis, Albie Morkel and Jean-Paul Duminy to call on, South Africa has no shortage of options or striking ability.
The batting strategy is likely to revolve around Kallis being the fulcrum of the innings, with others batting around him. Richard Levi, who sensationally smashed the fastest-ever T20I hundred in just his second match, will provide the big hitting at the top.
Hashim Amla has only played ten T20Is, but is in the form of his life at the moment, with a Test triple-century and an ODI 150 in the series against England. De Villiers has shown on more than one occasion that he’s the perfect man to either consolidate after the loss of quick wickets, or blast off from a good platform.
As always, South Africa’s fielding will be an added weapon, with men such as Faf du Plessis capable of conjuring a wicket with their athleticism and agility.
South Africa is in Group C for the initial stages of the tournament with Sri Lanka, the hosts, and Zimbabwe. Qualifying for the Super Eights from there should be straightforward, but once there, it is likely to be in a very tough group that might comprise India, Australia and Pakistan.
While this may be daunting, it is also an opportunity. Losses to India in 2007 and Pakistan in 2009 led to South African exits, with its opponents going on to win the tournament. The 2009 loss was particularly jarring because South Africa had looked the best-balanced team until they ran into an inspired Shahid Afridi in the semifinal.
Against Australia, there is a history of disappointments at ICC World events, with the tied semi-final of 1999 the most prominent.
If South Africa can hold its nerve to come through the Super Eights, and peak at the opportune moments, very few teams will be capable of beating them.