The Proteas, probably the world’s unluckiest team when it comes to World Cups, are gathering themselves for yet another tilt at the windmill as they prepare for this year’s edition of the tournament.
Here are five things they need to address before they head off to England:
Make number seven lucky again
As a former hard-hitting all-rounder, Proteas coach Ottis Gibson has almost as big an affinity for the bits-and-pieces folks of cricket as he does for fast bowlers.
That’s why he was pretty keen to load the World Cup squad with all-rounders, a bit like his old employers England.
But then an age-old curse – since Jacques Kallis’ retirement, anyway – got in the way as reliable all-rounders, especially those fitting the description of a number seven, are suddenly thin on the ground.
It’s six months to the World Cup and there’s no obvious solution, with the audition set to rumble on through the rest of the South African summer.
Chris Morris, the favourite going into the season, barely got a look in on the white ball tour to Australia and hasn’t been included in the squad to play Pakistan, while Dwaine Pretorius seems to be getting a foothold in a conversation he seemingly wasn’t in three months ago. Which brings us back to Morris and Pretorius, as well as Andile Phehlukwayo and Wiaan Mulder, as the men auditioning for the role.
A healthy Lungi Ngidi should be one of the key Proteas players who can help them eventually win the World Cup. Picture: Muzi Ntombela / BackpagePix
Get Lungi Ngidi healthy
The most encouraging sight at the Proteas’ training sessions this week was Ngidi, albeit with his knee still heavily strapped, working on his bowling action from a standing start with Gibson at Wanderers.
In a little over a year, Ngidi has made himself an indispensable member of the Proteas’ bowling attack, especially the one-day international (ODI) team.
Before injuring his knee in the T20 on tour in Australia, a trim and on-form Ngidi was a man almost at one with his immense potential.
Bowling fast and accurately, he took wickets up front, kept it tidy in the middle overs and hit his targets at the death.
Never mind Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn, Ngidi is as important as anyone when it comes to the Proteas winning the World Cup.
A starting place for Klaasen
This may sound a bit odd, especially as Heinrich Klaasen’s role seems to be that of designated reserve wicketkeeper, but each time Klaasen has been on the park for the Proteas, there have been glimpses that suggest not only a burning desire to play a bigger role with the bat and as an outfielder, but also that he could do some damage with a little more surety in the team.
From a distance, Klaasen, a destructive hitter who has no discernible issues playing wrist spin, looks like he puts too much pressure on himself to do well. A little faith in him may imbue him with the relaxation that might release him.
Hashim Amla. Picture: Deean Vivier
More game time for Amla
So much has been said about Hashim Amla’s form that the poor blighter’s ears must be ringing.
But such are his achievements in the ODI game that when the opening batsman sneezes, the rest of the Proteas batting line-up catches a cold.
Following a heavily publicised patchy run of form last year, Amla has shown encouraging signs of form in the test series against Pakistan.
If he is to lead the batting at the World Cup, he needs to bat as often as he can over the next few months to regain the touch that saw him break several “fastest to” ODI records after being typecast as a red ball cricketer.
Invest in luck
I’m not sure how anyone would go about this, but the country’s record of having won just one knockout game in seven World Cups – back in 2015 – demands that the Proteas almost actively try to engender good karma going into this year’s tournament.
It doesn’t matter if they believe in throwing their wishes into the lap of the universe so it can help them along, travelling with their own witch doctor or rubbing the Buddha’s belly – something has to be done because their failure to win a World Cup has gone from being mere bad luck to some kind of sick curse.