Former South Africa cricketer Kyle Abbott says the Proteas must “land the first punch” if they they are to end their semifinal curse, beat Australia and reach their first ICC Cricket World Cup final.
Both teams meet in the second of this year’s semifinals at Eden Gardens in Kolkata on Thursday.
The South Africa men’s team have reached the last four on four occasions – 1992, 1999, 2007 and 2015 – but have failed to reach the final.
Their infamous implosion against Australia in the 1999 semifinal in England led them to be nicknamed the “chokers”.
“South Africa are going to have to play one of their best games of cricket,” Abbott told Al Jazeera.
“It’s not going to be easy. Australia are not going to lie down and let them cruise through to a final, so every aspect of the Proteas’s game must go right.
“It’s time for the senior players to step up and take control of the game from ball one – land the first punch and run with it from there.”
No-baggage youngsters can thrive
Abbott, 36, was controversially dropped for the semifinal defeat to New Zealand at the 2015 World Cup when Vernon Philander was named ahead of the in-form seamer.
The right-arm seamer reflectively focused on the positive of his own performances in 2015 prior to the selection scandal.
Abbott believes this side, which have only Quinton de Kock and David Miller remaining from that time, will be free of a lot of the burdens that have come before.
“When you look at that squad, they have a good balance of youth and experience,” Abbott said.
“When I say youth, I don’t necessarily mean age but World Cup experience.
“There are a few guys that had the scars of 2015 and other World Cups.”
Abbott said not having too many players with World Cup experience could work in South Africa’s favour.
“They can use their own experience and, importantly, not bring too much baggage into the team and pressure,” he explained.
“The naivety might actually play in their hands, so approaching it like any other game and not dwelling on any of the past is going to be key for those youngsters.”
Abbott, who retired from international cricket to play for English county side Hampshire, believes the current side’s experienced players will have to bear the pressure of expectations.
“They will be turning to guys like de Kock, Miller and [Kagiso] Rabada to really step up in these situations and not expect Jansen and [Gerald] Coetzee to do the job – as good as they are.”
The Proteas’ Young Guns have been in some blistering form in the #CWC23 group stages 🇿🇦🔥
— Proteas Men (@ProteasMenCSA) November 14, 2023
‘Australia peaking at the right time’
Australia’s start to the World Cup was slow and came on the back of a tour to South Africa, which saw the hosts come from 2-0 down to take the five-match ODI series.
Their route to the semifinals has been emphatic after their sluggish beginning.
Glenn Maxwell smashed the highest score at a Cricket World Cup with an unbeaten 201 against Afghanistan. In the next match, Mitchell Marsh scored 177 not out against Bangladesh.
The five-time winners know how these competitions work and that, Abbott believes, will be the greatest challenge for South Africa and not the ‘”choker” tag.
“As a cricketing nation when it comes to these knock-out games, Australia turn it on,” Abbott said.
“They are probably peaking at the right time, having lost quite a bit of form at the start of the World Cup.”
Abbott said South Africa will need to get Maxwell and Marsh cheaply as both have taken games away from the opposition in the past.
— ICC Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) November 15, 2023
Heroes on both sides
South Africa have had their moments at this World Cup too.
De Kock was second only, by three runs, to India’s Virat Kohli as the leading run scorer in the group stage.
Aiden Markram, in the meantime, hit the highest individual World Cup score in the win against Sri Lanka – only to lose it to Maxwell.
“Aiden, probably only in the last six to 12 months, has shown his potential,” Abbott said.
“He had a great start to his career. Then he got dropped. He is certainly now stepping into a senior position.
“Quinton’s biggest strength is when he doesn’t think, so I hope he goes out there and sees the ball and hits the ball. That’s when he’s at his most dangerous.”
Being a bowler, Abbott knows the toss will be crucial. South Africa like to set the target, but the venue, Eden Gardens, lends itself to chasing under the lights.
There’s also a crucial call to make as to whether the Proteas go with the extra spinner, Tabraiz Shamsi, or the extra seamer, Gerald Coetzee.
“It can go from gripping during the day to skidding on and being like an indoor centre at night once the lights come on,” he said of the conditions and pitches in India.
“Whatever you do when you win the toss, you have to be 100 percent sure.”
He believes it will be a game of “batters versus batters”.
“Both sides have good spin and pace options, but runs on the board is going to be key, especially being a semifinal and with the heat.
“If either side can post high 200s or 300, it is going to be a tough chase.”