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SA face burden of expectancy as hosts
Marcus Prior |
January 29, 2003 17:37 IST
South Africa are well aware that no team has ever won the World Cup on home soil. They also know that, by all criteria, champions Australia are the team to beat in 2003.
No matter what the history books record, however, South Africa will still be under enormous pressure to win the trophy for the first time.
Memories in the republic are short and extend little further back than Edgbaston in 1999, when South Africa tied with Australia after a farcical mix-up between last-pair Lance Klusener and Allan Donald cost them a place in the final.
No South African -- fan or player -- has ever tried to hide the desire to avenge a moment still painfully seared into South African cricket's collective conscience.
There is certainly plenty of raw talent in the side -- they have just crushed Pakistan and Sri Lanka in one-day series to prove the point -- but it is as much in the mind that South Africa's players will be tested.
Along with the burden of expectation comes an anxiety to prove that world champions Australia are not their nemesis.
Defiance will be offered largely in the shape of the square blade and cussed aggression of the world's best all-rounder, Jacques Kallis, who is at the heart of a strong core of regulars in the South African line-up.
Kallis has become as dependable and indispensable as the proverbial wheel for his side, and would try to win the tournament single-handed if possible.
Only Australia's Glenn McGrath, meanwhile, can match Shaun Pollock for probing containment with the new ball and the South African captain's batting has also grown in authority since the last World Cup.
Fellow fast bowler Makhaya Ntini may be short of the finished article but he has developed into a genuine strike partner for Pollock.
Opening batsman Herschelle Gibbs is another trump card for South Africa and has begun to deliver on the promise that marked him out as one of the most gifted young players in the world.
South Africa will rely heavily on his ability to give the innings an injection of pace from the start, allowing all rounders such as Pollock, Nicky Boje and Klusener to capitalise lower down the order.
'Attitude', in contrasting forms, will be epitomised by Jonty Rhodes and Mark Boucher.
Supreme fielder Rhodes will be at his fourth and final World Cup. South Africa have so often in the past danced to his inspirational tune and his leadership from backward point will once again set the tone.
Wicketkeeper Boucher offers motivation of a different kind and is the one player in the South African team capable of matching the snarling, confrontational approach often adopted by the Australians.
For South Africa, the World Cup will not just be about beating Australia. It will also offer an opportunity for the African nation to unite behind a team that is broadly representative of the whole country.
The United Cricket Board (UCB) publicly committed itself to selecting five non-white players in South Africa's final squad of 15.
The last stages of selection will certainly have caused much head-shaking and hand-wringing around the country but the players themselves have been assured by board chief executive Gerald Majola that only the best 11 will take the field.
To win the World Cup, South Africa will almost certainly need to beat Australia -- and perhaps more than once.
Victory for the host nation in the tournament final at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on March 23 would mean a great deal more than just the glory earned by the champions.
It would be a demonstration to the nation and to the world that change can be embraced by South Africa, without compromising the quest for success. However, the journey has to be taken over a long and difficult road.
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