Youth will be the key as the Proteas’ search for uncharted territory on their World Cup journey, writes KHALID MOHIDIN.
Preparations are over, the journey ahead daunting and the butterflies will no doubt be fluttering as the Proteas venture off on what will likely be an arduous journey to reach their desired promise land.
Coach Ottis Gibson too likened their World Cup campaign to a trek up Table Mountain; a team building exercise the squad embarked on before their departure to England.
More obstacles will block their path when they set foot on English soil, but this time around they won’t require a shovel to dig their way through like before.
Expectations are low with the Class of 2019, who have at their core a group of youngsters untainted by misery of failed campaigns in the past to give them an edge. Three 2014 U19 World Cup winners are present in the side and key to the Proteas’ setup, while 23-year-old Lungi Ngidi shares similar attributes to his young teammates.
Importantly they don’t carry the ‘baggage’ of previous generations.
‘We try to leave the baggage in the baggage compartment and focus on the positive things,’ Gibson joked, referring to the mishaps in previous World Cups. ‘If we get to that point [of positivity] we will do what has never been done and therefore you don’t want to carry too much baggage of what has happened before, we only focus on what is ahead of us.
‘We’ve spent a lot of time on visualising that journey and what it will feel like and each and every person’s part within it. There aren’t a lot of people who are on this journey that have that baggage, so we try not to take that with us anywhere at all.’
The ‘Baggage’ Gibson is referring to needs to be eradicated, and for South Africa’s sake, there is a burning hope that they have left it all behind … the run out in ’99, the Duckworth-Lewis miscalculation in 2003, the ‘quota’ debate in 2007, as well as the chokers tag that seemingly overwhelmed the Proteas in 2015.
Skipper Faf du Plessis, who has played through a large part of that negativity and is featuring in his third tournament, was emphatic in his response when asked about the past failures.
‘I don’t care what has happened in the past, I don’t care what’s been spoken about; I just want to go out there and do something special.’
This puts eight fresh squad members in the spotlight, who have a burning desire to rewrite the past. Particularly those who tasted World Cup glory, albeit at a Junior level.
‘I do believe we have a nice blend of youth and experience in our team. We not going to the World Cup with all the experience we had in the past, we have a much younger team and I think that’s a huge positive,’ said Du Plessis. ‘We have some very young and fearless cricketers in our team that just want to play and do well.’
These young guns have blended into the culture and have blossomed as leaders in their own right, that are respected by the more senior players in the side and most importantly have the full backing of their charismatic captain.
‘My perception of leadership has evolved over the last two years or so. Sometimes we look into leadership as the guys with the most games and that they are naturally the leaders in the team. I have now seen the value that young guys can also be key leaders in the team,’ Du Plessis added.
‘You can see what’s been happening in the last few years. Quinton [De Kock] captained a game, Aiden [Markram] has captained, Kagiso [Rabada] is a big leader in the team.
‘Leadership is not just how many games you’ve played. It’s making sure every guy in the team has different groups they relate to and that’s why we have different leaders in the group.’
One thing is for sure. The Proteas press tour has sparked a fire in all South Africans. Those who doubt and those who have always believed.
Now, all we can do is wait and see whether these Dark Horses can gallop to victory.
Photo: Sameera Peiris/Gallo Images