Familiar themes emerged from Proteas coach Ottis Gibson’s pre-World Cup media conference earlier this week.
Predictable, but reasonable questions about batsman Aiden Markram’s position in the batting order, all-rounder Chris Morris’ late addition to the squad and the expectation of conditions in England were handled with characteristic poise.
Gibson reiterated that the Proteas wouldn’t be negatively influenced by past World Cup failures, offering soothing reassurances to a nation forced to endure the chokes of 2011 and 2007, miscalculation in 2003, that infamous run-out in 1999, and more.
‘This is a fresh start, and we’ve been using the same language for the past 18 months. Things are positive, and what has gone on in the past is gone. We are not taking the past with us to this World Cup. This is a new adventure for us,’ said Gibson.
‘One thing I really enjoy about this group is that when we come together, we really come together. When we all reconnected, there was a lot of “bromance” going on.’
Speaking about avoiding failure in the context of those premature tournament exits of yesteryear, though, will require astute management by the coaching staff and positive results from the players. Gibson’s talk, indeed, needs to be translated to deeds by captain Faf du Plessis and company. Words and deeds should not prove mutually exclusive.
‘We’ve got some guys who have been to the World Cup before. But we’ve got other guys who are going to their first World Cup – and we want to make it special for them,’ added Gibson.
Indeed, seven of the 15-man squad have played men’s World Cup cricket. Five of those have participated in more than one tournament, but of the eight others, none at all – a questionable ratio for a team that will have the second-oldest average age – 30 – at the 2019 World Cup.
The fine form of 40-year-old Tahir in the recent Indian Premier League, his top-four position in the International Cricket Council’s rankings for ODI bowlers, and his huge potential to genuinely keep, or turn, contests in South Africa’s favour at the World Cup, though, all attest to the notion that age is just a number.
However, Tahir can draw from experience at the 2011 and 2015 World Cups. The eight who have never played in an ODI World Cup – including Morris, Markram and more – cannot. Gibson, Tahir, Du Plessis and others will be required to correct that potential imbalance.
‘We don’t want to put too much pressure or emphasis on the fact that it’s a World Cup. At the end of the day, we are going to be playing the same cricket we played against Sri Lanka earlier this year and Pakistan a couple of months before that. We are not building up to this being anything more than it is – it is still cricket,’ insisted Gibson.
His predecessor, Russell Domingo, expressed similar sentiments prior to the 2015 World Cup: ‘I’m really trying to downplay the importance of this World Cup. It’s massively important from the public perception, but it’s just business as usual for us as far as I’m concerned.’
Less than two month later, South Africa exited a World Cup via another damning semi-final defeat. Perhaps the ‘pressure’ and ’emphasis’ that comes with a World Cup campaign should be highlighted, rather than understated by Gibson and team.
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