Photo Credit: ICC
Mark Boucher’s South Africa have called upon experienced heads in their bid for a first ever ICC Men’s T20 World Cup win.
Remarkably, the Proteas have never reached the final of this competition and have only made the final four on two occasions.
Despite that record, there is no great change to the squad that missed out on the 2021 semi-finals on net run rate to eventual champions Australia, with just four new names in the squad.
But even those who have been drafted in are familiar faces, with Wayne Parnell and Rilee Rossouw both included after making their return to the T20 set-up after several years away from the fold.
So will the old guard be able to steer South Africa to a maiden T20 crown or will their wait go on?
South Africa’s chances were dealt a big blow when superstar batter Rassie van der Dussen was ruled out through injury.
The 33-year-old suffered an injury to his finger during the second Test match against England and his absence will be keenly felt in the middle order.
All-rounder Dwaine Pretorious is another notable absentee but the squad certainly has not been weakened by his late withdrawal.
Pretorious’ replacement Marco Jansen announced himself onto the international stage with a Test five-for against England in the summer and has been described as “the complete package” by Sri Lanka legend Mahela Jayawardene.
That he was only initially selected as a travelling reserve demonstrates the depth and breadth of quality in the side: from Rossouw and Quinton de Kock at the top of the order, to spin kings Tabraiz Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj.
With a great balance and a group well-suited to the pitches and conditions in Australia, this is surely South Africa’s best opportunity to win a World Cup yet.
In a group with India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, they will have to prove they can thrive against sub-continental opposition to get through to the semi-finals.
T20 World Cup history
Much was expected of South Africa in the inaugural T20 World Cup. With home advantage and a side packed with big names, they looked a good bet to go the distance.
But after winning their first four matches in convincing fashion, a heavy defeat to India in their final Super 8s fixture saw them eliminated from the tournament on net run rate.
They did make the final four two years later but came up tantalisingly short in the semi-final against Pakistan, losing by just seven runs to the eventual winners.
That was the end of the Mickey Arthur era but a change in coach for each of the following two tournaments failed to yield a change in fortune.
A return to the semi-finals in 2014 proved to be a false dawn, with no final four appearance in either of the two following tournaments, though they were perhaps unlucky not to progress last time out, losing only one of their five Super 12 fixtures with an identical record to group winners, England.
Preparations for the World Cup could not have gone much better for Boucher’s side.
They beat India away from home in their first two T20 fixtures after last year’s World Cup – David Miller starred with the bat and Anrich Nortje was as consistent as ever as the tourists took a 2-0 series lead.
But they were pegged back over the course of the next two matches before the decider was abandoned due to rain.
A series win in England then followed, with a 90-run victory in the final of three matches a real statement of intent with Shamsi seemingly unplayable at the Rose Bowl, finishing with figures of five for 24.
Ireland were next to be cast aside before a return to India, with the hosts edging that one 2-1 at the beginning of October.
The high point was undoubtedly Rossouw’s match-winning 100 off just 48 balls in the final contest which effectively secured his place in the World Cup squad.
And they have carried that good form into Australia, with New Zealand defeated by nine wickets in the first of South Africa’s two warm-up fixtures.
Such a dominant victory against last year’s runners-up will certainly have raised eyebrows before the tournament gets underway.
The Proteas have two batters ranked inside the world’s top 10, a feat that is only matched by Pakistan.
Aiden Markram sits fourth in the rankings while keeper De Kock completes the top 10.
Markram averages a staggering 41.05 in T20 internationals and strikes at over 150, while De Kock has already hit two T20 international half-centuries this year and the pair make a lethal combination at the top of the order.
Shamsi has established himself as one of the world’s best white-ball bowlers in recent times and only Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan and Sri Lanka’s Wanindu Hasaranga are ranked higher.
He will be ably supported by Maharaj, while in the pace bowling department, Nortje has become one of Delhi Capitals’ most prized assets in the Indian Premier League.
He has the pace to blow away the world’s best, as does Kagiso Rabada, while veteran left-armer Parnell will look to find sideways movement with the new ball.