MUMBAI. — South Africa have their best balanced cricket squad ever going into the World Twenty20 and captain Faf du Plessis is confident they can finally put an end to the “chokers” tag that has dogged the country in major tournaments. Du Plessis yesterday acknowledged that South Africa’s reputation as big-match chokers had become “a monkey on the back” of the team that they would only shed by winning an international trophy.
Since their readmission in 1991 after the apartheid era ban, the Proteas have been the nearly men of world cups in both T20 and 50 over cricket, falling agonisingly short of the final on several occasions.
Their defeat to New Zealand in the semi-final of last year’s World Cup, after a disastrous final over by star bowler Dale Steyn, revived accusations that the team are “chokers” who can’t handle pressure.
Asked about the chokers tag at a press conference ahead of the World T20 in India, du Plessis said they were coping better at crunch points in tight matches and had improved their record on chasing totals.
“The only way you can get rid of that (the chokers’ tag) is to perform under pressure,” said the 31-year-old batsman.
“I think it’s fair, but the only way you will ever get that monkey off your back is if you do win a trophy.
“For now this team hasn’t been thinking of that at all, we are just trying to play good cricket and the important thing for me is that in the build-up to this World Cup . . . there’s been real pressure moments that the team has stood up and played well.
“In the series against Australia, we tried to make sure that every area was covered and that is why the team changed a little bit every game,” Du Plessis told reporters yesterday.
“So as a captain I don’t feel worried, I feel that we have got a well balanced team.
“I feel that it is the probably the most balanced squad we have had and it is not the eleven that is playing, we have got some real depth in our squad.”
Despite their failure to win a major trophy, South Africa go into the tournament as one of the favourites and are currently in third place in the T20 world rankings.
Du Plessis said that hosts India are favourites after an impressive run of victories, but added that South Africa were in with a shout in what he predicted would be a “cracker” of a tournament.
“The majority of the squad play IPL cricket so for us its not foreign conditions, we know what to expect here,” he said in reference to India’s lucrative T20 domestic league.
“We know that if we do play our best cricket then we will be there or thereabouts . . . In T20 cricket, anyone can beat anyone on their day so we are looking forward to the competition. I think it’s going to be a real cracker.”
South Africa have great strength at the top of their batting order with both Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock having staked their claims to be the opening partner for AB de Villiers.
The middle order is studded with powerful strokemakers while fit-again Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada provide pace and control in the fast bowling department. Leg-spinner Imran Tahir has been a key wicket-taker in the 20-over format and is seen as South Africa’s trump card on the slow spinning wickets in India.
“If you look at guys like Hashim Amla in the previous game, and two games Hashim was not playing, Dale Steyn is just back,” said Du Plessis.
“So we have got some great names in our squad and guys are competing to get into the eleven. Like I said for the first time we have got a real great balance and every single area is covered.”
South Africa have never won a World Cup in either the 50-over or T20 formats and the South African captain said the “chokers” tag was a fair one.
“The only way you can ever get the monkey off your back is if you do win a trophy,” he said.
“For me it is about our preparation, which has been really good and then if it happens, hopefully we will have to stop answering the question.”
South Africa will open their World Twenty20 campaign against England in Mumbai on March 18. They also face group matches against Sri Lanka, West Indies and the winners of the qualifying match between Zimbabwe and Afghanistan. — AFP.