Monday’s washout with the West Indies will make the Proteas’ qualification for the World Cup semi-finals even more unlikely, but not impossible.
If defeats to England, Bangladesh and India weren’t enough to remove them from contention for a berth among the final four teams, that single point gathered from soggy Southampton has all but ensured elimination.
However, they are still marginally in the running – and can draw inspiration from Pakistan’s 1992 campaign. The Pakistanis won just one of the opening five matches the previous time that the World Cup was played over a complete round-robin stage – and also excluded groups and quarter-finals – like this year.
The eventual champions also weathered a washout (with England) and lost to India in those opening two weeks. The similarities between Pakistan’s opening results in 1992 and South Africa’s 27 years later, are indeed remarkably similar.
Pakistan’s fortunes turned on the back of victory over Australia, Sri Lanka and New Zealand. South Africa must still face those three nations – and Pakistan – in this World Cup. Imran Khan and company ultimately only needed fours wins to reach the semi-finals. Granted, there is additional opposition from Afghanistan this time, so four may not be enough, but five victories might. Afghanistan are not shaping for a single victory in the United Kingdom – and victory for any opposition is all but a given.
Three defeats and a no-result, to reiterate, were not enough to prevent Pakistan from finishing in fourth position – and therefore qualifying for the semi-finals.
They’ve helped the Proteas this month, too, by beating England – the one team likely to leave the other nine vying for just three semi-final berths. South Africa could return the favour for Sarfaraz Ahmed’s team by outdoing Australia at Old Trafford in Manchester on 6 July. The Proteas, of course, triumphed over the Aussies in 1992, which was enough to push the Pakistanis into fourth position, and the semi-finals.
The Proteas, in short, are not out of contention for a berth among the final four this World Cup. While Faf du Plessis, Ottis Gibson and others recently proffered hope that six wins from as many matches would probably be enough, five from five is now an absolute must. Anything less and all hope will be gone, especially as England, India, Australia and New Zealand have collectively conceded only two losses so far.
South Africa will meet Afghanistan at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff, Wales, on Saturday. The Proteas’ first day-night match of the 2019 World Cup, against opposition not yet faced in ODI cricket, at a venue that hasn’t yielded a win in 16 years, will kill or kickstart a campaign currently in awkward limbo.
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