A simple statistic: South Africa played 16 One-Day Internationals in the 2016/17 season and won 14 times. In fact, go back a bit, to the 2015/16 season and South Africa won six out of 10 ODIs, winning the series against England - coming from 0-2 down - and in India.
For all the troubles in the Test arena last summer, South Africa have for the last few seasons at least, been a very good one-day team. In fact since the World Cup in 2015 the Proteas have the best winning percentage of the top five-ranked teams ahead of the Champions Trophy.
South Africa won 25 out of 38 ODIs since that infamous Eden Park semi-final, a winning ratio of 65.78 percent. Australia, who’ve played four more matches than South Africa in the same period, have won 59.52 percent of their matches, tournament hosts England 58.97 percent, New Zealand 53.84 percent, while defending champions India have a winning rate of 55.55 percent.
England, Australia and India may argue that their priorities have been elsewhere in that time - all three have had massive Test schedules and in Australia’s case, certainly that schedule played a part in the squad picked for their ODI series in this country last season, where Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and James Pattinson were either resting or injured. That quartet has been included in the Australian squad for the Champions Trophy and should they meet South Africa - which would be in the knockout stages - it will be a vastly different team to the one beaten here 5-0.
Russell Domingo will argue that South Africa didn’t have AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn against the Aussies, while Hashim Amla missed the first two games. In addition, Rilee Rossouw, the Man of the Series against the World Champions and Kyle Abbott are also not available while South Africa, too, were experimenting through the season with how to adapt to different personnel.
At various periods through the summer, they used between two and four seam bowling all-rounders, and the squad for the Champions Trophy contains all four - Andile Phehlukwayo, Chris Morris, Dwaine Pretorius and Wayne Parnell. If that is a throwback for some older watchers to the late 1990s when Messrs Klusener, Pollock, Kallis and Elworthy were in the side, then that’s not necessarily a bad thing. South Africa were a very good One-Day team in that period too, and those all-rounders were a key part of the strategy that made the side so successful.
Domingo said they would adopt a “horses-for-courses” approach as far as selection was concerned, taking cognisance of conditions and opponents - which, for the group stages, will be the “Big Three” from the subcontinent. Conditions at The Oval and Edgbaston in June are something of a mystery, although given it’s an ICC tournament and that pitches are usually manipulated to suit India, they’re likely to be flat.
Adding Keshav Maharaj as the extra frontline spinner was a surprise and then some choked on their lunch when it was revealed it was as a result of his batting. But the reason seems sound when you consider that it’s his batting in the event of him playing alongside Imran Tahir. Aaron Phangiso and Tabraiz Shamsi would make the South African tail too long despite, in Shamsi’s case, there being a strong argument for utilising another attacking spinner in the middle overs.
Perhaps the biggest concern with the squad is the frontline batting.
Throughout last season they were heavily reliant on Quinton de Kock - who averaged 50.31 while scoring two centuries and six 50s and Faf du Plessis, who made three hundreds and four 50s.The likes of Hashim Amla (an average of 33.36) and JP Duminy (31.46) struggled. In Duminy’s case he has his off-spin to fall back on, but those two need to contribute if South Africa are to have a successful campaign in England.
Happily Dave Miller seems to be scoring more consistently at international level now and as he’s shown throughout his Proteas career, he’s a man for the big occasion. There are concerns about skipper AB de Villiers’ fitness with his back flaring up again during the IPL. For now management are happy he’ll be fit and given how motivated he is about bringing home a trophy for his country, De Villiers will be working his socks off to ensure he’s ready.
South Africa will face the mental demons of competitions past. But all the components are there to win the event.