Stern tests await Proteas and AB
The Proteas got off to a brilliant start in the ICC World T20 by comprehensively defeating Zimbabwe and then the home team Sri Lanka to qualify for the Super Eight phase of the event. There was never any doubt that the South African team would qualify for the next phase, but the manner in which they did it was hugely impressive.
The mauling of a hapless Zimbabwe team was expected. South Africa showed real class in the more difficult encounter against the home team Sri Lanka. Their victory against a strong Sri Lankan side in a rain shortened affair confirmed the Proteas' status as one of the favourites to win the tournament.
Even before the Proteas played their first match the press, and in particular the British press, were saying that the Proteas is the number one team to win the event. This is a clever way to create as much pressure as possible on the South African team. What they really hoping for is that the Proteas will win all the qualifying games and then bomb out in the knockout phase so they can have a field day at the Proteas' expense should this happen.
The reality is that South Africa can win the event, but so can four other teams. I am sure that the management and the players are wise to this ploy and won’t allow the so-called favourites tag to place more pressure on the team or indeed affect them in any way.
There have been numerous World Cups and T20 events where South Africa did indeed look the best team in the early stages. They saved their best cricket for the qualifying phase and then came unstuck in the knockout stage when the pressure was on.
Hopefully the new leadership of AB de Villiers and Gary Kirsten will bring calm to the team from now on when the tournament gets going in all seriousness. Kirsten is big on mental strength and preparation and De Villiers doesn’t have the mental scarring of the leadership before him, so hopefully they will find a formula to take South Africa through the Super Eight stage and then peak in the semifinal and final.
Many factors favour the Proteas. They are a top, well-balanced team full of match winners. The conditions also suit them down to the ground. Fast bowling will have a big say in this event and South Africa's fast bowlers up there with the best of them.
Every game will be a stern test now. Other than Ireland, who at the time of writing this article still had the West Indies to play, the minnows in the event have been unceremoniously despatched from the tournament. The divide between the top teams and the likes of Afghanistan and Zimbabwe has been enormous. Teams like Pakistan, Australia and India all bring dangerous opposition to the table.
Under the captaincy of De Villiers there is energy, passion and a positive vibe in the squad on all fronts. Will it be enough to take his boys all the way to the title? I wish I knew, but one thing I am certain about is that they will give it their very best and that is all one can ask.