The Proteas' brains trust: coach Ottis Gibson and skipper Faf du Plessis at Edgbaston. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Reuters

JOHANNESBURG – South Africa needs nothing less than victory - mostly - at Edgbaston against New Zealand today to keep alive its hopes in the 2019 Cricket World Cup, and the tournament’s director Steve Elworthy wouldn’t mind a Proteas triumph either.

The World Cup is in danger of turning into a ‘Big three’ and New Zealand competition for the next three weeks unless the Proteas can win in Birmingham.

It would make for a very tired tournament until the semi-finals, exactly the opposite of what this 10- team format was meant to achieve.

Having shunted the likes of Zimbabwe, Ireland, the Netherlands and Scotland, which all played in the 2015 tournament, to the sidelines to give the event a more competitive feel - and ensure the primary money makers India play as many games as possible - if the play-off spots are effectively decided just after the halfway point of the round-robin phase it would be a damning indictment of the ICC and provide even more ammunition to those who have criticised the organisation’s expansionary plans.

Due to a nice and easy start to the competition, New Zealand finds itself on seven points, with wins over Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, while they earned a point when the match against pre-tournament favourites, India, was rained out.

The South Africans meanwhile had both India and hosts England on their schedule in the first week, but handicapped themselves by effectively picking a 14-man squad for their first three games - because of Dale Steyn’s injury - and then went and made tactical errors coupled with poor execution with the ball and lost to Bangladesh.

That defeat was seen as being good for the tournament at the time, but it really wasn’t, because the Bangladeshis didn’t back it up against New Zealand a few days later.

Meanwhile, other than Pakistan beating England, none of the ‘Big Three’ has lost to anyone outside of their wealthy triangle, so far making this tournament all too predictable - the Proteas’ failings aside of course.

So if the Black Caps win today, the top four spots are effectively locked up. Kane Williamson’s side do have to face Australia and England still, but even if they lose both of those they’d fancy their chances against West Indies and Pakistan to lock up a final four spot.

Bangladesh, after beating the West Indies, would love it if South Africa can win in Birmingham because it would drag New Zealand, with those two difficult matches ahead of them, into a possible dogfight for a spot in the last four.

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The Bangladeshis do have India and Australia ahead of them, but also a game against the hapless Afghans, and their last round-robin match against Pakistan which they would fancy winning.

Of course the West Indies and Pakistan, who coach Mickey Arthur has called upon to rekindle the spirit of 1992, would also have plenty to play for in the event of a Proteas victory at Edgbaston.

The onus is thus very much on Faf Du Plessis and Co. to keep the round-robin phase of the competition alive by winning today.



The Star

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