Cricket World Cups have caused more heartache for South African supporters than any other format of the game.
There have been agonising near-misses and numerous disappointments – but actually qualifying for the tournament has never previously been an issue.
Now, though, the Proteas need to find some dramatically improved form or face taking the long road if they want to play in the main event in India in October and November 2023.
A home series defeat by Bangladesh has put the Proteas in a precarious position. They languish ninth on the World Cup Super League log.
Only eight teams, including hosts India, qualify automatically.
The bottom five teams in the Super League will have to endure a qualifying tournament in June 2023, along with five associate nations, with only two places available for India.
“The alarm bells are there and we’re putting ourselves under pressure,” said head coach Mark Boucher after Bangladesh clinched a series victory with a nine-wicket win in Centurion on Wednesday.
The Proteas have only won four of their 13 Super League fixtures – and they have tough three-match series against England, India and Australia to come. They will, however, expect to win two postponed fixtures against the Netherlands, although the first match of a Covid-shortened series in November was rained off.
Boucher said South Africa “went to sleep” against Bangladesh and needed to improve. But he said automatic qualification was not out of reach.
“We’ve beaten the best sides in the world before and we’ll have to beat them again to qualify for the World Cup,” said Boucher. “If we arrive with confidence, we can beat anyone.”
Boucher is contracted until the World Cup but is not certain to be in charge by then. He faces a disciplinary hearing on charges of racial discrimination in May which could lead to his dismissal.
Proteas captain Temba Bavuma said he was struggling to understand how a team that beat India 3-0 in a series in January could play so poorly against Bangladesh.
Ironically for South Africa, the series against India was not part of the Super League.
“In the series against India our intensity was at another level but in this series we were not good enough,” said Bavuma. He gave credit to Bangladesh. “The skill and execution of Bangladesh was at a high level.”
Eight of the players who appeared against Bangladesh are contracted to play in the IPL, which starts on Sunday.
The IPL issue was the source of much speculation leading up to the series, with the IPL players deciding collectively that they would be available for the one-day games but not for two Test matches which start on 31 March.
Asked whether the IPL debate was a distraction, Bavuma said: “Individually, the guys will have to ask themselves that question but it is not an excuse I will be using.”
© Agence France-Presse