The recent ODI series between England and SA would have provided the Proteas’ management team with few real answers ahead of the Champions Trophy tournament in June. England clinched the series after winning by 72 runs in Leeds and then by two runs in Southampton. Not for the first time this season, the Proteas’ wayward bowling at the death cost the side dearly.
SA have enjoyed a terrific run over the past nine months as far as results are concerned. They’ve won 15 of their last 19 ODIs and have reached the summit of the ICC ODI rankings. Yet, when one considers their recent performances across the 2-1 series defeat to England, one wonders if they have what it takes to go all the way in the Champions Trophy tournament.
Nearly 20 years have passed since SA won the ICC Knockout Trophy in Bangladesh. Many of the players in the current Proteas side have experienced more than their fair share of disappointments. The Proteas battled through the pool phase of the 2013 Champions Trophy and were beaten convincingly by hosts England in the semifinals. Though SA’s 2015 World Cup campaign ended at the penultimate stage, a first-ever playoff victory against Sri Lanka in the quarterfinals may have been viewed as some consolation.
The Proteas have every reason to believe they will qualify for the playoffs of the 2017 Champions Trophy. They smashed Australia 5-0 in a series played in SA in 2016 and thrashed Sri Lanka 5-0 in the new year. The win in the first ODI in New Zealand this year allowed them to equal the SA record for the most consecutive victories (12).
Though SA has a formidable top six — AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis are all ranked among the ICC’s Top 10 batsmen — questions remain around the mettle and experience of their bowling attack. Veteran Dale Steyn will miss the Champions Trophy due to injury. Morné Morkel made an unimpressive return to the 50-over game in the recent match played against England at Lord’s. To be fair, the fast bowler looked short of match practice. The Proteas should hope that Morkel finds his rhythm sooner rather than later.
Leg-spinner Imran Tahir is the top-ranked ODI bowler in the world, while seamer Kagiso Rabada continues to make waves on the international circuit. Rabada took 4-39 in the third ODI against England at Lord’s this past Monday. That performance set the Proteas up for a face-saving victory.
That said, SA’s bowlers have rarely fired as a collective and the team’s tendency to leak runs at the death remains a huge concern. The Proteas conceded 102 runs in the final 10 overs of the match played against England in Leeds. In the second game of the series, the tourists leaked 111 runs during the same period.
The Proteas should back themselves to beat Sri Lanka this coming Saturday and Pakistan on June 7. The result of the clash between SA and India on June 11 should determine which of those two teams tops Group B. From there, the Proteas’ Champions Trophy hopes will hinge on their batting performances.