When the ICC Cricket World Cup begins on Thursday 30 May at The Oval in London, Africa’s attention will be focused on the Proteas of South Africa and their 50-year-old coach Ottis Gibson.
The former West Indian cricketer from Barbados is the man on whose shoulders the hopes of a nation and continent lie. Africa can finally win one of the biggest prizes in world sport. The Proteas have been semi finalists in 1992, 1999, 2007 and 2015 and are hoping to go one better.
Gibson will lead the Proteas into the World Cup opener against hosts England on Thursday but he is unfazed by the challenge in front of him. Hired in 2017, he was given a clear mandate to win the world cup, a fact confirmed in January by Cricket South Africa chief executive Thabang Moroe.
Gibson has stated from time to time that he has no special pressure to deliver a first World Cup win for South Africa. “I don’t feel that at all,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s just cricket. If we play well enough to win, we could win. If we don’t, life goes on.”
He inherited a team with enormous talent but faced particularly unique challenges. Government-mandated racial transformation targets and a number of top players leaving for lucrative contracts with English counties which has rendered them out of the national team picture.
In his first series against Bangladesh, Gibson’s sides swept all three formats (two Tests, three ODIs, and two Twenty20 matches) with ease, including a record-setting ODI where Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock combined to chase a total of 281 without losing a wicket.
However, questions were raised following the selection of Hashim Amla. It seems unthinkable that a man with over 7,900 one-day international runs and 27 hundreds should be scrutinized. But the 35-year-old has passed three figures just once in his last 17 ODIs for the Proteas, against Pakistan in January.
The selectors decided to pick Amla over Reeza Hendricks who did not particularly impress in the 5-0 whitewash of Sri Lanka in March, a best of 29 in four innings possibly costing him his spot.
The Proteas possess a good bowling attack – if they can all stay fit – with Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, and Imran Tahir. The only question is if they can afford to play them all, as it would leave them with a very long tail.
Captain Faf du Plessis will definitely be one to watch. He will get runs, but also as a captain – working out the best balance to their team – he will be key. An 87 run win over Sri Lanka in a recent warm-up has given a nation and a continent hope. But with the likes of India, Australia, New Zealand, and Pakistan to contend with, along with hosts England, Gibson, and his team have their work cut out.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect News Central’s editorial stance.