The whole of South Africa will be watching the fortunes of its team. It has undergone considerable change since the last Cup in Australia,with a new captain in Hansie Cronje and a new coach in Bob Woolmer. Cronje has brought a positive approach to the team. Woolmer, on the other hand, is a great believer in employing the unexpected as a means of overcoming defensive tactics in limited overs cricket. This promises lots of excitement for both local crowds and fans at home.
All-rounders and spinners tend to do well in one-day cricket on the subcontinent and the South African team will be built around this premise. It is a balanced team, with star fielder Jonty Rhodes, outstanding all-rounder Brian McMillan, fiery pace-man Alan Donald and leg-spin prodigy Paul Adams.
And, yes, 22-year-old Shaun Pollock, the great ‘find’ of the recent home series against England. He’s genuinely quick, agile in the field and outstanding in the lower order. The youngster has cricket oozing from his fingertips. Hardly surprising, as his father is former South African fast bowler Peter Pollock, current convenor of the country’s selection panel. And of course, his uncle, Graeme Pollock is arguably the greatest batsman South Africa has produced.
Shaun’s start in one-dayers was explosive. He was named man of the match twice in his first three games in the series against England. He was alsonamed Bowler of the Series when South Africa won the Hong Kong Sixes World Championships.
Another ‘find’ of the series was Paul Adams, who at 18 became the youngest person to play for South Africa. He has a most unorthodox delivery to his left arm spinners, and he bowls a variety of balls, including the ‘Chinaman’. Adams is the first coloured person to come into the team from the United Cricket Board’s Development Programme and has become a role model. President Nelson Mandela described his presence as a major unifying factor, and his impact signals the way for young players of all communities. A young player I am sure the world will hear about is pacer Makhaya Ntini, another product of the development pro-gramme and the leading wicket-taker on a recent England tour by the Under-19 squad.
Both Pollock and Adams will, no doubt, cause a big stir on the subcontinent. But the squad’s biggest strength lies in its determination, conscious as it is of its role in building pride in the new rainbow nation. Mandela believes sports has a key role in nation-building. The players know they are role models for thousands of young children from disadvantaged communities who have come into cricket through the development programme, and this will influence the way they throw themselves at each match. Tours to the subcontinent have given us a good indication of what is required to play winning cricket under local conditions.
Most of all, our players want to be world champions and they believe they can realise their ambition now. The opposition is formidable. The hosts, apart from having the hometown advantage, are among the best one-day nations in world cricket. Sri Lanka have shown great skill and determination in recent international outings, and could cause major upsets. India’s Sachin Tendulkar is a match-winner at any time and at any venue, and Pakistan is a proud cricketing nation who will fight to keep the title. I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that those wanting to win the World Cup might have to contend with the formidable challenge of facing South Africa first.