Just one more to go – Markram

PROTEAS captain Aiden Markram looking into the horizon and surely imagining what can be. Supplied

PROTEAS captain Aiden Markram looking into the horizon and surely imagining what can be. Supplied

Published Jun 29, 2024


WHEN India welcomed South Africa back into the international cricketing fold after 27 years of isolation in Kolkata back in 1991, it provided hope and inspiration to a whole new generation of cricketers that the Proteas could one day be crowned world champions.

That dream will now finally have the opportunity of being realised when these teams meet in the Proteas’ first appearance in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup final at the Kensington Oval in Barbados.

The significance of this venerable venue cannot be understated either, for it is here – the former playground of the legendary three Ws (Walcott, Weekes and Worrell) and arguably the greatest cricketer of all-time in Sir Garfield Sobers – that the Proteas also played their first Test after unification.

While this may seem like nostalgic indulgence, the importance of the Proteas’ date with destiny today cannot be fully appreciated without the full comprehension of the journey that has gone before, particularly related to previous semi-final nightmares.

“There has been a lot of support back home. They are the guys that have inspired us when we were younger. To have their support means a lot to the team,” Proteas captain Aiden Markram said.

“There is not too much reflecting at the moment, but it is more the opportunity that we have of being in the final that excites me.

“Whether we win or lose, we have taken a step in the right direction, but we would love to get to our first final and win and break the burden of what a lot of other people are saying about as a team.”

Markram’s men have already scripted their own chapter in South African cricket’s folklore and are certainly not finished yet.

They “conquered the semi-final mountain” – as former Proteas captain Shaun Pollock emotionally conveyed on commentary when Reeza Hendricks struck the winning runs against Afghanistan in Trinidad – thereby obliterating a narrative that has stained South African cricket for so long, and now would like nothing more than to take that one almighty step further.

“We were obviously a happy bunch qualifying for the final, but it’s amazing that straight after the game in the changeroom we said there’s one more to go.

“It’s not driven by coach or captain but the entire unit feels it. Nobody wants to lose a final. There is no sense that the guys are satisfied and there is a massive hunger to win the final.”

To achieve this crowning glory, they will need to lower the flag of the world’s No 1 ranked T20 team, who boast some of the game’s biggest superstars in captain Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Ravi Jadeja, Jasprit Bumrah and Arshdeep Singh.

Sharma has been in prolific form with 248 runs – the third most in the tournament – at an average of 41.33, while Singh is taking aim at the top wicket-taker’s mantle with 15 scalps.

But this T20 World Cup has conjured up a rarity. Unquestionably, the two best sides in the tournament will contest the grand finale.

They are here because they have remained faithful to core principals that have seen both India and the Proteas unbeaten en route to the final. This has never happened in the previous eight editions of the T20 World Cup, with the winners set to make history as the first undefeated team to raise the trophy.

Equally, the Proteas will take confidence from the fact that they have won matches they seemed more likely to lose – unlike their opponents, who have, bar the mega Pakistan clash, been cruising along like a catamaran on the Caribbean sea.

“There have been close moments in games that would probably have affected the result, and to have won those moments three, four times throughout the competition so far has given the team the belief that we can win from any position,” Markram said.

“I think that is important for a team to have that. The guys really understand their roles in the team and that is allowing us to win those knife-edge margins.”

Markram’s men will also not allow the glamour boys of world cricket to forget that they have routinely succumbed under the pressure and expectation of a billion people back home – most recently last November when another unbeaten run came to painful end in the ODI World Cup final defeat to Australia.

The battle stretches beyond the middle too. The Kensington Oval will most likely be transformed into a sea of blue with only a smattering of green and yellow. Among them will, of course, be anyone of importance in India from business tycoons, Bollywood stars, musicians and politicians all nestled comfortably into the ICC’s VVIP suites.

Fortunately, the entire Proteas team has experienced all this before due to their exploits in the Indian Premier League and locally in the SA20 and should not be overawed by the occasion.

This will, though, be largely dependent on the senior core of Quinton de Kock, Hendricks and Markram settling the expected nerves with a positive start with the bat and conversely, Marco Jansen, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje with ball in hand.

After all the years of waiting, the day of reckoning has finally arrived.

Squads for the final

South Africa: Aiden Markram (capt), Ottniel Baartman, Gerald Coetzee, Quinton de Kock, Bjorn Fortuin, Reeza Hendricks, Marco Jansen, Heinrich Klaasen, Keshav Maharaj, David Miller, Anrich Nortje, Kagiso Rabada, Ryan Rickelton, Tabraiz Shamsi, Tristan Stubbs

India squad: Rohit Sharma (capt), Hardik Pandya (vice-capt), Yashasvi Jaiswal, Virat Kohli, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant (wk), Sanju Samson (wk), Shivam Dube, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Arshdeep Singh, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj