In Greek mythology, Proteus was a sea god best known for his ability to change his form at will. Proteus’ peculiarity gave birth to the adjective “protean”, which generally means versatility, flexibility, and adaptability. It was based on these characteristics that Swedish botanist, physician and zoologist Carl Linnaeus named a genus of South African flowering plants as the protea, because the plant had a wide variety of form. It is with this backdrop that I then ask: can the Proteas cricket team rise beyond its natural habitat, display the versatility and resourcefulness its naming evokes, and finally render us world champions in this year’s Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand? There are three main hurdles we need to overcome if we are to be the victors.
Firstly, and most commonly noted, the Proteas have to overcome history and the psychological baggage of the “chokers” label at World Cup tournaments. I remember my sports psychology lecturer at university saying that sports was 90% a mental game and 10% talent/skill. If the Proteas can remain in the moment and silence the voices of doubt, they will have jumped over hurdle number one.
With the Australian team currently ranked number one in the world in the One Day International (ODI) format, the second hurdle will be trying to beat Australia on home turf. This is no easy task as Australia is currently on fire, having won both their games versus England and India in the current Carlton Mid ODI Tri-Series. The Aussie team looks determined to win the World Cup, and follow in India’s footsteps as being the second team ever to win at home. South Africa also returns to Australia after a defeat last November, giving the Aussies a big psychological advantage should we advance passed the group stages and meet them.
The third, and most important factor in our search for World Cup victory is our team composition and division of labour. It is here that we must pay the most attention.
AB de Villiers’ world record-breaking innings of 149 runs from 44 balls at the January 18 2015 game against the West Indies rightfully has South Africans in awe and jubilation. With “Captain Fantastic” on our side, and in the form of his life, we stand a good chance of winning this year’s World Cup. De Villiers’ versatile shot-making abilities display the true nature of a Protea and may be the vital ingredient to South Africa’s potential success. But the captain cannot sail this ship alone. Key to the Proteas’ success will be for all the talented batsman around AB to also step up to the plate.
The elephant in the room is the question of Farhaan Behardien. With his agile fielding skills, Behardien was dubbed a “Jonty Rhodes in the making” in the domestic league. He has translated his fielding form to the national team, with his incredible catch to get rid of Chris Gayle in Sunday’s match as a case in point. What about his batting and bowling? Having played 18 matches for the ODl team, Behardien has a batting average of 21.50 in 16 innings, with one decent performance of 63 runs against Australia last year. His bowling economy is 5.00, with nine wickets in 13 innings. We have a tough question to ask though: is his all-rounder potential really reaping rewards for the South African team? Perhaps my standards are too high, but to me Behardien has simply not looked comfortable or convincing in the green and gold colours.
I understand why the selectors would include Behardien, because with him and JP Duminy, you extend both our bowling and batting options with two all-rounders. This combination however has become our weakest link, as Duminy’s bowling abilities are not at the standard of a specialist bowler, and Behardien has been mundane all around. If I were a selector, I would strengthen our bowling attack by bringing in a specialist fifth bowler in Behardien’s place, to support Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, and Imran Tahir. Duminy would then become the optional sixth bowler should we need him. With the current formation of the team having Duminy as the fifth bowler and Behardien supplementing him, we leave ourselves very exposed to the hungry willows of the likes of David Warner of Australia, Virat Kohli of India, and Angelo Mathews of Sri Lanka. Simply put, leaving such a blatant vulnerability in the team make-up could jeopardise our World Cup chances. After all, a team is as strong as its weakest link.
If we can overcome these hurdles – our legacy of choking, the dominating Aussies playing on home turf, and the somewhat unrealised potential of our team make-up — I really think we have a strong chance of winning the World Cup. The Proteas management has to use the remaining three games against the West Indies to close the glaring gap in our starting line-up, by shifting Behardien to the bench and bringing in a fifth specialist bowler.
Once the decision has been made on who the fifth bowler will be, the first 11 must then breathe that #ProteaFire, play their hearts out, display the flexible and agile characteristics of a true Protea and bring back that World Cup trophy come end of March 2015. Previous Proteas teams have promised with no avail. Come on boys, don’t leave us hungry once again. This time around it’s our turn to eat!