14/07/2024

Going under the radar will suit a South Africa team ‘free of baggage’ – AB de Villiers

South Africa’s total against Sri Lanka was the highest in ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup history and caused the cricketing world to sit up and take notice but they will need a few more centuries before people back home start believing the Proteas can win their first World Cup, writes AB de Villiers.

After all, they have seen it all too many times before – a Proteas side looking like real contenders and then falling before the final.

Despite a stunning start to the campaign, expectations amongst fans remain low and the team’s good form has gone under the radar. But that is exactly what makes me so excited about South Africa’s chances in India.

I have played in previous teams that had more superstars in its ranks but struggled to deal with the pressure that came with that.

For the current generation, it is quite the opposite. There are fewer established figures but lots of players ready to put their stamp on the world stage, free of the baggage from previous failures.

Aiden Markram’s 49-ball century showed just how devastating he can be on the attack, but he also has the temperament and ability to build an innings, while Heinrich Klaasen is in the form of his life.

The Australian bowling attack will ask plenty of questions, but I am confident we can deal with it. It is with the ball that I believe South Africa can win the game.

Alongside Rassie van der Dussen, Temba Bavuma, David Miller and Quinton de Kock, it is surely one of the most dangerous top sixes in the competition, if not the best on current form thanks to a perfect balance of control and firepower.

They are all playing in a way that reminds me of the 2015 World Cup, when we reached the semi-finals before narrowly losing to New Zealand in what was a harsh reminder of the fine margins in international cricket.

We played with absolute freedom every single game and I remember that semi-final really feeling like we played our dream game, with a few dropped catches ultimately costing us.

It was part of a new culture that I know is still in place and will be evident against Australia on Thursday, in what will be a very tough battle.

The Australian bowling attack will ask plenty of questions, but I am confident we can deal with it. It is with the ball that I believe South Africa can win the game.

The Aussies will be low on confidence after defeat to India, but a wounded Australia team is very dangerous. It will be crucial to pick up some early wickets to keep that pressure on, something we have not done too well recently.

It might sound obvious, but Steve Smith’s wicket will be the most important. He holds everything together for Australia and if we can get him out early, I am confident we can get the job done.

All the focus has been on the batters, but this is a huge test for the bowling attack if South Africa want to be seen as real contenders, especially without Anrich Nortje – no one knows how to get it done at World Cups like Australia.

The loss of Nortje to injury is a real blow and means there is extra pressure on Kagiso Rabada to lead the attack. I spoke to him last week and he is determined to step up to the plate and lead by example as one of the best bowlers in the world.

I have South Africa as slight favourites and a Proteas victory would certainly persuade people at home that the Proteas can become champions, but it is a long tournament with plenty of cricket still to be played regardless of the outcome.

The longer we can fly under the radar, the better, as those are often the tournaments you win. Suddenly you get to a semi-final, and it is knockout cricket where anything can happen.

I have a funny feeling this might just be the year – I just hope those fine margins are on our side this time.

© ICC

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