We are in for a glut of international sport over the next few months. Clayton Goodwin gives you a taste of what is to come as he previews the forthcoming cricket, women’s football and netball World Cups as well as championship athletics.
South Africa, in particular, and Africa generally, has the chance to make an indelible impact on international sport in an exceptional, if not quite unprecedented, programme of activity over the next few months.
The action starts with the Cricket World Cup and the Proteas playing against hosts England at the London Oval on Thursday 30 May and could end successfully with the final at Lord’s, the sport’s international headquarters, on Sunday 14 July.
It will overlap with the women’s football World Cup in France, in which the South Africans get the ball rolling against Spain on Saturday 8 June, the same day on which Nigeria take on Norway. The final there is set for Sunday 7 July.
Less than a week later the Netball World Cup starts in Liverpool on Friday 12 July, with the final in the same city on Sunday 21 July. In addition, there is a full schedule of IAAF Diamond League athletics.
Cricket World Cup
Kagiso Rabada heads a pace attack which can provide South Africa’s cricketers with the impetus to win the World Cup, which has slipped through their hands previously. It is worrying, therefore, that in the run-up to the tournament he had to withdraw from the Indian Premier League (IPL) season with a back niggle. At that moment he was the leading wicket-taker in the IPL 2019, with 25 dismissals from 12 games, and can claim with some justification to be the world’s foremost fast bowler currently.
Rabada stands high in the renowned tradition of South African pace, along with Makhaya Ntini and Vernon Philander of recent fame, and fronts a battery of bowlers which is a match for the best batsmen in the world.
He is supported by comparative newcomer Lungisani Ngidi, as well as the seasoned Dale Steyn and seam-bowling all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo.
The batting has experience in depth in veteran Hashim Amla, who has proven his worth already on English pitches, high-scoring wicket-keeper batsman Quinton de Kock, and lower-order contributions from captain Faf du Plessis and potential anchorman J.P. Duminy.
The South Africans are favoured with three preliminary round matches in London, whereas West Indies, for example, have to play all their games away from the capital. The clash between South Africa and West Indies at Southampton on Monday 10 June should have a strong bearing on which side goes forward to the further stages of the competition.
“South Africa can play themselves into a winning position – but they don’t know how to win,” former West Indies fast bowler Colin Croft told me as we watched the team appear to be closing in on victory against Australia in the now legendary World Cup semi-final match at Birmingham on 17 June 1999. How right he was! Almost immediately the innings imploded. It ended with Allan Donald dropping his bat and being run out from what would have been the single to gain a place in the final but resulted instead in elimination.
Seven years earlier a rain-stoppage had triggered an impossible runs-ball ratio which crippled South Africa during a semi-final against England which they appeared to be winning; and four years later they were put out in the preliminary stages of the tournament by missing out to Sri Lanka by just one run, in a game they had dominated, after misreading the Duckworth-Lewis method of calculating the result of a game interrupted by rain.
It has been suggested that a complex inherited from a troubled past by the isolation of Apartheid and the Hansie Cronje match-fixing scandal is to blame (!). Whatever it is, Kagiso Rabada and his colleagues have a fine chance of putting all that behind them and taking home the World Cup at last – unless the South Africans, and fate, can find another unusual way of shooting themselves in the foot!
Athletics Diamond League
Caster Semenya is one South African who has experienced triumph already this summer. Two days after the Court of Arbitration in Sport had turned down her appeal, Semenya won the 800 metres in the opening Diamond League event in Doha by smashing her own meeting record.
That is surely a taster for the World Championships in the same city from 27 September to 6 October. The concluding highlight of the showdown in Doha was a fine tussle for the 3,000 metres between Hellen Obiri and Ganzebe Dibaba. This time the Kenyan staved off Dibaba’s challenge over a tough last lap to win. The duel will doubtless continue right through the season until the Diamond League Final in Brussels on Friday 6 September and the World Championships thereafter.
A week earlier Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge had shown that we are in for an enthralling summer of outstanding athletics performances by winning the London marathon in what was both a new course record and the second-fastest marathon time ever recorded (being exceeded only by his own world record set in Berlin last September); his aim is now to break the two-hour barrier. With his compatriot Brigid Kosgei winning the women’s race, the Kenyans have shown they are likely to maintain their grip on long-distance running – though others will certainly try to prove otherwise.
Women’s World Cup
Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa, as well as Jamaica’s flamboyant Reggae Girlz, have the spark to upset the women’s World Cup rankings. Nigeria’s Super Falcons, with eye-catching players such as Asisat Oshoala and Francisca Ordega, confirmed their regional superiority with victory for the ninth time in the CAF.
Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, in which the Cameroon Lionesses, for whom captain Christine Manie and attacking mid-fielder Gabrielle Onguene also showed their own capacity to surprise.
South Africa’s Banyana Banyana may have lost out to Nigeria on penalties in the final, frustrated by goalkeeper Tochukwu Olueji, but in forward Thembi Kgatlana, rated the continent’s finest female footballer, mid-fielder Linda Motlhalo and defender Janine van Wyk they had three of the tournament’s star players – the three play together for Houston in the USA.
Netball World Cup
Although the domination of international netball by the ‘Big Four’ (Australia, New Zealand, England, Jamaica) will be hard to shake, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, and perhaps Zimbabwe, could with greater confidence find themselves among the medals. They need to believe in themselves and then success could come.
The Uganda She Cranes rattled England in their first match here last November. Ahead as the match entered the closing stages, they lost eventually by a narrow margin, only to fall away for the rest of the series as confidence ebbed.
The Malawi Queens impressed on their tour of England and have the boost of having beaten highly-rated New Zealand in the Commonwealth Games a year ago. In Joyce Mvula they possess a shooter to match Uganda’s Peace Proscovia.
The South Africans, with longer experience of international competition, will be encouraged by having forced the powerful New Zealand Silver Ferns into extra time before losing 62-60 at the Copperbox, London this January.
The year rounds off with the Rugby Union World Cup in Japan from 20 September to 2 November – a trophy in which South Africa has tasted triumph twice before. NA