Cape Town: South Africa will rely on its depth of all-rounders when it seeks to become the first team to win the World Cup in its own country. Shaun Pollock's team will start among the favourites in the 14-nation contest but looming over its campaign will be memories of a succession of setbacks against defending champions Australia. It was Australia who dashed South Africa's hopes in the 1999 World Cup in England, squeezing a five-wicket win with two balls to spare in a Super Six match at Headingley before going through on run rate when a thrilling semi-final at Edgbaston ended in a tie.
Australia crushed South Africa in home-and-away matches last season, winning five out of six Tests and eight out of 11 One-day matches, one of which was tied. As a result of the dismal performances against Australia, South Africa set up a cricket committee consisting mainly of former players, fired coach Graham Ford and appointed a new selection panel, headed by former Test player Omar Henry. Under new coach Eric Simons, the South Africans have been in impressive form this season, crushing Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan in home series. They enter the World Cup after seven successive Test wins and 11 wins in 13 One-day matches at home.
One of the notable differences under Simons, a former international medium-pace bowler, has been an improvement in the bowling form of Pollock, Makhaya Ntini and Jacques Kallis. Together with veteran Allan Donald, they make up a formidable pace quartet, who will be supported in South Africa's likely starting line-up by left-arm spinner Nicky Boje and the seamer of 1999 World Cup star Lance Klusener.
It has long been a strength of South African teams that they have been able to field a side with as many as six quality bowlers, a situation made possible by the batting ability of the likes of Kallis, Pollock, Klusener and Boje. South Africa's fielding has been a key to its impressive record in One-day cricket. The inspirational Jonty Rhodes, playing in his fourth and final World Cup, has the ability to lift the team with his diving saves at backward point, while opening batsman Herschelle Gibbs is almost in the same class as Rhodes in the cover region.
Gibbs will be a key player in the South African batting line-up. He has the ability to hit stunning boundary shots off good bowlers in the crucial early overs of an innings and is one of the form players in the team, having hit five One-day International centuries this season and two Test hundreds, including a double century against Pakistan. Gary Kirsten, Gibbs' left-handed opening partner, provides stability and experience, while Kallis, who has moved from three to four in the order, is a world-class player.
A potential problem for South Africa is that both Kallis and Boeta Dippenaar, earmarked to bat at number three, can be tied down by accurate bowling. The rest of the batting is packed with players capable of scoring quickly. Klusener has yet to recapture the bludgeoning form that boosted South Africa's scoring rate in the closing overs in England in 1999 but Rhodes, wicket-keeper Mark Boucher, Pollock and Boje have all hit centuries at international level. Aware of the pressures of challenging for a world crown in their own country, the South Africans engaged a sports psychologist and went on a three-day retreat in the Drakensberg mountains to work on the mental side of their game shortly before assembling in Cape Town to finalise their cricket preparations.
South Africa: Shaun Pollock (captain), Mark Boucher, Nicky Boje, Boeta Dippenaar, Allan Donald, Herschelle Gibbs, Andrew Hall, Jacques Kallis, Gary Kirsten, Lance Klusener, Charl Langeveldt, Makhaya Ntini, Robin Peterson, Jonty Rhodes and Monde Zondeki.