Proteas ready to cement legendary status in Barbados

South Africa’s captain Aiden Markram plays a shot during the ICC men’s Twenty20 World Cup 2024 semi-final cricket match against Afghanistan at Brian Lara Cricket Academy in Tarouba, Trinidad and Tobago yesterday. | AFP

South Africa’s captain Aiden Markram plays a shot during the ICC men’s Twenty20 World Cup 2024 semi-final cricket match against Afghanistan at Brian Lara Cricket Academy in Tarouba, Trinidad and Tobago yesterday. | AFP

Published Jun 28, 2024


THE PROTEAS Men’s team are in “pinch me, wake up” everybody’s dreaming territory.

And for the majority of South Africans who only arose yesterday morning to the startling news that the Proteas had finally broken their World Cup semi-final hoodoo, it may certainly have felt exactly like that.

This is uncharted waters for the Proteas Men’s team. After 32 years of trying across white-ball formats, they will line up in the ICC T20 World Cup final at the Kensington Oval in Barbados tomorrow.

After stumbling through much of this T20 World Cup hanging on by their fingertips, experiencing almost the full distance in terms of venues and conditions in the US and Caribbean the past couple of weeks, the Proteas assembled a near perfect performance in sweeping aside tournament darlings Afghanistan in yesterday’s first semi-final in Trinidad and Tobago.

“This is as tough as it gets really,” Proteas captain Aiden Markram said after the nine-wicket victory.

“It’s a personal and individual motivation that you get to a final, to earn the opportunity to hopefully lift the trophy.

“You do get belief from winning close games and potentially winning games that you thought you weren’t going to win. It does a lot for your changing room and the vibe in the changing room.

“But we all understand (as a team) this game and how it works and how things can go for you, things can go against you, and you take that in your stride.”

“So we’ll take a little bit of confidence from that and see if we can put it to any use in the final.”

The Proteas will be hard-pressed to replicate the clinical performance they delivered at the Brian Lara Academy of Sport in tomorrow’s grand showpiece.

It will help that Markram is able to call on a trio of genuine fast bowlers that can comfortably sit alongside the legends that have emanated from these Caribbean islands.

Because when the likes of Marco Jansen, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje are hitting their straps in conditions as favourable as they were in Trinidad, they become near unplayable.

The Afghani batters were simply ill-equipped to withstand such an intense barrage of pace, bounce and swing.

It was quite mesmerising to witness the Afghans slump to 28/5 after the first 30 balls of the innings before eventually succumbing to 56 all out in just 11.5 overs.

Again, “pinch me, wake me up” sort of territory.

“The bowlers, not just today, but the whole competition, they’ve been really good. Probably saving the batters on certain occasions, but conditions I would say have been in their favour,” Markram said.

“But even when you say that, they still have to get it done right and that’s exactly what they’ve been doing for us, game in and game out, so you have to give a lot of appreciation towards them.”

The sum of the parts are certainly coming together for the Proteas at the most critical of junctions.

The two batters most shy of runs in this T20 World Cup – the skipper himself and Reeza Hendricks – took on the responsibility of guiding their team home with 67 balls to spare.

Both were forced to be circumspect due to the accuracy of the Afghan seamers Fazalhaq Farooqi and Naveen-ul-Haq, in conjunction with the demanding surface, but they also pounced when anything loose was offered up, with Hendricks putting the icing on the semi-final cake in emphatic fashion with six and a boundary.

“It was quite tough,” Markram said. “I mean, a batter is not going to lie to you and say that once you get it up and down, it doesn’t play a role in your mind.

“But we knew it was a matter of a partnership, taking this thing out a bit up front. Had a bit of luck once again, which we’re fortunate for, and managed to get a bit of a partnership. And from there, it’s going to be a little bit easier. Chuffed to have got it over the line.”

The challenge now is for the Proteas is to lift themselves both physically and emotionally after just climbing their Everest.

As seen with Afghanistan, who were playing in their first World Cup semi-final after defeating 50-overs champions Australia to qualify just two days prior, it is a great challenge to get up again.

Markram, though, believes his team will need no more motivation than knowing they are on the brink of immortality.

“This team’s been together for a long time now as a white-ball group, both formats, and it’s nice for us to get to a final. It’s a pleasing feeling, but more importantly the group of guys there in the changing room, I’m extremely happy for all of them,” Markram said.

“One more step, it’s an exciting challenge for us. We’ve never been there before, but it’s nothing to be scared of. It’s an opportunity that we’ve never had and we’ll be really excited about it.

“We feel we’ve been playing really good cricket for a couple of years now, have some world-class players in the group, and believe that we can compete with the best in the world and we can win trophies.

“Obviously there are external pressures, but we’re trying to keep it simple and that should give us a good chance.”