World Cup – Chris Waters: South Africa look ready to shed ‘chokers’ tag and grab the glory

South Afirca's Hashim Amla
South Afirca's Hashim Amla
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BY my humble estimation, three teams have a prodigious chance of winning the World Cup – co-hosts Australia and New Zealand, plus South Africa.

In addition, two teams have a presentable chance (India and Sri Lanka) and two teams have a puncher’s chance (Pakistan and England).

As for West Indies, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Ireland, Scotland, Bangladesh and UAE, well, you can write them off barring a miracle.

At least England go into the 14-strong event knowing there are at least seven sides worse than them.

If I had to take a wild guess (if predicting the outcome was easy, we’d all be millionaires), I’d put the sports editor’s money on South Africa.

Granted, people have been predicting that South Africa would win a World Cup for so long now that the term “chokers” has practically replaced “Springboks” as the team’s nickname.

Instead, the best they have to show for their six World Cup appearances since readmission post-apartheid is three semi-finals and two quarter-finals.

Whereas New Zealand have consistently punched above their weight to reach six semi-finals in the 10 World Cups held since the inaugural event in 1975, so South Africa have habitually under-achieved.

The case for the prosecution is clear and yet the case for the defence is unmistakable, too.

Again, by my humble estimation, South Africa possess the world’s best two batsmen in Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers and the world’s finest fast bowler in Dale Steyn.

Throw in the likes of Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir and David Miller, all of whom have played for Yorkshire, tha knows, and South Africa have a formidable squad.

If they can get their heads right, as the terminology goes, they are certainly going to take some stopping.

Their likeliest obstacles should be Australia and New Zealand, each of whom can capitalise on home advantage.

Australia are favourites with most bookmakers, followed by South Africa and New Zealand.

Australia have won three of the last four World Cups – India took the most recent event in 2011 – and have dynamic quality throughout their side.

Their only obvious weakness is in spin bowling, although that might not necessarily be a problem given the expected surfaces.

Any side with Yorkshire’s Aaron Finch and David Warner at the top of the order is not likely to struggle to post competitive scores, while Australia have a battery of impressive quicks.

Mitchell Starc – another ex-Yorkie – looked close to his best in the tri-series, and could light up the tournament if he stays fit.

Mitchell Johnson needs no introduction, while Yorkshire’s new signing Glenn Maxwell is a burgeoning all-rounder.

There will also be an added factor driving on Australia – namely, the desire to win the cup in memory of Phillip Hughes, which is sure to add a strong emotive element.

Many judges fancy New Zealand – not least former England captain Michael Vaughan and Yorkshire’s director of cricket, Martyn Moxon.

And it is easy to see why.

The Black Caps have a fine recent record – so much so, the term “dark horses” no longer applies – and a number of potential match-winners.

Kane Williamson (another Yorkie), Ross Taylor, Trent Boult and Tim Southee are just some of the talents at Brendon McCullum’s disposal, a captain with the nous and skill to lead his side home.

Perhaps the Kiwis’ biggest challenge will be coping with the expectation that comes with the pressure of being genuine contenders, particularly in front of their home support.

In times past, New Zealand have thrived on slipping under the radar and surprising the strongly-fancied nations.

But that no longer applies. The Kiwis themselves are strongly fancied, and they have run into form at just the right time.

Australia, New Zealand and South Africa will take all the beating, but it would be folly to write off India and Sri Lanka.

India are strong in the batting but less so in the bowling, while Sri Lanka boast the timeless trio of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan.

India have looked somewhat ramshackle at times during their tour of Australia this winter, but no team with Virat Kohli and captain MS Dhoni can be blithely dismissed.

Sri Lanka have a trump card in their own captain, Angelo Mathews, who played a key role in his side’s victory in last year’s Headingley Test, and Sri Lanka were runners-up in the last two World Cups.

Pakistan and England will be mainly determined, perhaps, not to make up the numbers.

The former are short on X-factor quality, while it is difficult to know what to make of England. They performed pretty well in the tri-series after finally dispensing with Alastair Cook as captain, and, with the likes of Joe Root and Jos Buttler in the ranks, could well be dark horses this time.

With a quarter-final place practically guaranteed due to the competition’s structure, the reality is that England would only need to win three games from that point to rub mine and fellow pundits’ noses firmly in the dirt.