Home > Cricket > World Cup 2003 > Columns > Barry Richards
South Africa ready to make amends
February 08, 2003
South Africa have played good cricket over the last six months but realize that their record against Australia needs improvement if they are to win the World Cup. Both Pakistan and Sri Lanka have shown shortcomings, both technically and mentally, when they come to South Africa. They will need to improve vastly to be a factor, although, for me, Wasim Akram is as big a factor as you will get during the World Cup. If he embraces the ethos of the team, he can take Pakistan a long way. Without him, and any evidence of team spirit, it will be a long, hot and fruitless campaign for Pakistan.
Thus, the same cannot be said for South Africa, who have home ground advantage. Contrary to previous World Cups, it is a big factor for South Africa. They will feel comfortable at all venues and the last six months has only galvanized the South African unit.
Looking through the South African side, for me, it is not hard to spot the two players who should have the most impact. And it is no surprise that both are all-rounders in Shaun Pollock and Jacques Kallis. Pollock will be mighty keen for a good campaign in view of all the controversy about selections and it may well be his last as skipper.
There has been a lot of talk about South Africa players moving to greener pastures of the county scene in England. The same could be said of Jacques Kallis, who reigns supreme as the world's best all-rounder, but he just needs to up his strike-rate batting-wise, currently in the high 60s, to just under 70s or higher so that South Africa can look forward to bigger totals, which gives their attack the breathing space they need.
There is a feeling in the South African camp that they should be defending the World Cup on home territory, as, to them, that missed opportunity in 1999, in the semi-final against Australia, was the defacto final. Perhaps, it was in view of the no-contest final at Lord's.
Have South Africa learnt anything since then? Certainly, and their younger guns, like Herschelle Gibbs, are now more experienced. Two problems confront South Africa in their quest for the Cup. The ability to score really quickly upfront in the first 15 overs, which is not always needed but flexibility is the key, and the need to be able to do it as required.
South Africa usually opt for the slow start, wickets in hand and come with a rush at the end. This always works against the minnows but not always against the big guns. They need to practice scoring in the first 15 overs, so its second nature; at times they try and do it but not with confidence and commitment.
The one bouncer rule has inhibited players like Boje and Klusener, who did so well in the past. But the one bouncer has created a lot of doubt and it no longer seems to be as big a factor. They need someone to do that job and my feeling is Pollock could be the man.
The other area is the new ball. Pollock is always reliable, tight and gives nothing away first up, but Makaya Ntini, although much improved, has a 'sameness' about his action, pace and point of delivery that makes him predictable. This often leads to a 'rollicking' start, especially on slower tracks, which throws the bowling plan into chaos.
South Africa's bowling plan is vital for their success and they will have to get the combinations dead right. And that means, in most cases, all five bowlers going for around 40 off their 10 overs.
South Africa base their game around consistency and the requirement for each player to know their job and do it 100 per cent every time. Teams that have beaten South Africa have been able to upset their game plans and their thinking into turmoil.
The World Cup is shaping up to be one of the best ever and South Africa will be very pumped up for it. Let's hope the emotion doesn't get in the way of some very clear thinking; if it doesn't then South Africa might just get over the line, especially with so much home support.