x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Champions Trophy: Pressure is off 'chokers' South Africa

Group B Perennial underachievers go into the tournament without the weight of expectation that has previously hindered them and with batsmen in prolific form, says Osman Samiuddin.

AB de Villiers, the South Africa captain, is arguably the form batsman in all three formats of the game just now. Philip Brown / Reuters
AB de Villiers, the South Africa captain, is arguably the form batsman in all three formats of the game just now. Philip Brown / Reuters

Are we going to go there again? Are we going to talk about South Africa's inexplicable and continual failures at big tournaments at which they arrive as favourites, a mystery ongoing since at least 1996 and taking in all global tournaments in all formats? Known, in simpler terms, as their capacity to choke?

Well, we might not need to go there this time. South Africa are not necessarily the favourites coming into this last Champions Trophy. That might have more to do with the state of flux at cricket's top levels, with no really dominant one-day international side, than South Africa's own form, but that is nevertheless the case.

They have a very strong team, of course, and it is inconceivable to not imagine them among the front-runners.

Simply having Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel makes them look stronger than many other sides. But quietly and perhaps without specifically planning for it, this squad has a fresh look to it.

The absence of Graeme Smith through injury and Jacques Kallis (through an undetermined and non-specific indifference to the format, apparently) might in times gone be considered a hefty blow, but it is not the worst thing that South Africa are moving on.

Much will depend on Hashim Amla and captain AB de Villiers, two of the world's best batsmen. The latter is arguably the finest across all three formats of the game just now.

But many eyes will also be scanning David Miller.

The left-hander has been groomed for international cricket from a young age, hitting balls straight and hard back to his father at the age of two, the story goes, and though he has impressed on occasion for the national side, the hype blew up in the Indian Premier League this year. A series of outrageous performances for Kings XI Punjab included a 38-ball 101.

Conditions and opponents will be completely different in England, but expectations will be similar.

South Africa are also bolstered by the return of JP Duminy, who has been out of the game with a ruptured Achilles tendon for nearly six months. He marked his return with an unbeaten 150 against Holland in a warm-up game last week, and with De Villiers, Miller and Faf du Plessis, forms a potentially destructive middle order. Given potential flimsiness at the top of the order, that is just as well.

They may not be blessed with spinning options – they have never been, really – but Robin Peterson is perennially underrated and under appreciated. With that pace attack, you could argue they might not need one, anyway.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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