It’s approaching 50 years since the maiden ODI was played between Australia and England at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). While T20s are the current darlings of cricket, it was the 50-over format which initially helped raise the popularity and exposure of the sport.
The format gave birth to the ICC World Cup in 1975, a quadrennial competition, which has become the benchmark for greatness in the game. Over the years, there have been several teams to have dazzled with their brilliant performances over both bilateral series and ICC competitions.
In this series, we take a look at eight of the best ODI squads in history. South Africa’s ODI side which reached the semi-final of the 2015 World Cup is the subject of our focus below.
Openers: Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock (WK)
Middle-order: Faf du Plessis (C), AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Rilee Rossouw, David Miller, Farhaan Bar
Spinners: Imran Tahir
Pacers: Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Kyle Abbott, Wayne Parnell, Vernon Philander
There are good teams which achieve greatness by maximisng their true capabilities, and then there are those which fall just short despite having all the talent in the world. This particular South Africa side fell in the latter category, with their performances falling short when it mattered most.
With generational talents such as AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn in their ranks, things finally seemed to be falling into place for the Proteas. A maiden World Cup final appearance beckoned after the visitors took control of the last-four clash against hosts New Zealand in Auckland in 2015. However, what followed was familiar heartbreak as Grant Elliot landed a counter-attacking sucker punch to their guts.
Considering the side had prevailed over the Blackcaps in a bilateral series ahead of the tournament and would go on to beat them again, the loss in the semi-final was a bitter pill to swallow.
Captain – AB de Villiers
As arguably the most talented batsman to come out of South Africa, it was only natural that the captaincy fell to AB de Villiers post the 2011 World Cup in the subcontinent.
Unlike several players who have crumbled under the pressure of the extra responsibility, captaincy spurred de Villiers to greater heights as a batsman. Three players including Virat Kohli scored more ODI runs than the South African between 2011 and 2015. However, none of them came close to matching his brilliance during the period.
In those five years, the right-hander amassed 4,347 runs at a staggering average of nearly 68 along with a superb strike-rate of 112.32. Some 14 of his 25 ODI hundreds were also registered during these five years, including a world record 31-ball ton against the West Indies in a 2015 World Cup group clash against the West Indies.
A captain who inspired his men with his own performances, de Villiers looked destined to end South Africa’s World Cup hoodoo after his 45-ball 65 gave them the supremacy at the innings break. Unfortunately for the ace batsman, it would prove to be his final World Cup appearance for the Proteas.
Amla, ABD and Faf trinity
The presence of Hashim Amla, de Villiers and Faf du Plessis coupled with that of an emerging Quinton de Kock, meant South Africa had one of the most formidable batting spines in the world at the time.
While de Villiers was clearly at his peak as a batsman during the period, Amla was enjoying a golden run of form as well with an average greater than 50. The pair’s contributions to the team were prolific, and they registered nearly 8,500 runs and 29 ODI tons between them over the five-year interval.
With sizable output from du Plessis and JP Duminy as well, South Africa had the batting firepower to dominate most bowling attacks.
Tahir gives missing spin edge
Spin had never been a strong point for the Proteas for years, but Imran Tahir changed all that with his late revival. Handed a South Africa debut in 2011, Tahir gave the side a new dimension with his ability to chip in with important wickets. During 2011-15, the leggie claimed a total of 84 ODI wickets at an average of just 22.94 along with a strike-rate of under 31.
With a strong pace unit to supplement him at the other end, South Africa had a complete bowling attack on their hands.
Morkel and Steyn pace combo
While Tahir brought the much needed advantage in the spin department, South Africa always held plenty of riches when it came to pace. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel forged a sensational new-ball partnership, with the duo complementing each other seamlessly with their combination of pace and bounce.
No other pace partnership in the world at the time came close to matching their exploits for South Africa. Between 2011 and 2015, Morkel and Steyn claimed a total of 237 ODI scalps between them at a combined average of just 23.
The Proteas could always bank on the duo to give them some breakthroughs with the new ball and set the stage up perfectly for Tahir to dominate in the middle-overs.
Greatest feat – Dominance in bilateral and trilateral competitions
The South Africans had put together a great run of form in the lead up to the 2015 World Cup as de Villiers and his men won seven out of eight ODI series ahead of the competition. It included a victory in a triangular series also involving eventual champions Australia at home in 2014.
Their 2015 World Cup campaign, on the other hand, was not as impressive in comparison. Defeats to subcontinent rivals India and Pakistan on their way to the semi-final had punctured some of their confidence, before Elliot landed the killer blow.
Annoyingly for the Proteas, their dominant ODI form made a return post the World Cup. It started with a shock upset series defeat away in Bangladesh, where a side missing AB de Villiers were overturned by 2-1.
Putting that defeat behind them fairly quickly, South Africa produced a run which saw them win seven out of eight ODI series. Among this streak was an emphatic 5-0 whitewash over world champions Australia on home soil. Other conquests included overseas series victories in India and their World Cup nemesis New Zealand.
However, the mistakes of the past were repeated as South Africa once again failed to translate this supremacy on the big stage. Come the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy in England and the Proteas choked before the knock-outs after losing both their group-stage clashes.
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