World Cup semi-finals are supposedly nervous affairs but a day before South Africa’s encounter with Australia at the iconic Eden Gardens in Kolkata, Heinrich Klaasen, their middle-order powerhouse, is happily discussing his team’s underwear.
It is a fair old tangent, prompted by the Springboks side that defended the men’s Rugby World Cup last month with victory over the All Blacks in Paris. Klaasen played plenty of cricket against their feisty scrum-half Faf de Klerk back in the day, leading to a cheeky question of whether he, like De Klerk, owns a pair of South African flag budgie smugglers.
“Haha, no, I’m not that type of guy,” says Klaasen, whose personal campaign to date included that brutal 109 against England in the tandoor-like heat of Mumbai. “But some of the guys do; there’s definitely a couple of pairs floating around the dressing room.
“I’ve spoken to [the Springboks captain] Siya Kolisi during this trip and Faf. He and I go back a long way. Our schools [in Pretoria] were big rivals. Faf played for Waterkloof, I was at Menlopark, and he was a keeper-batter like me. It was pretty fierce competition; a lot of verbal abuse going around.
“But, yeah, we have taken a lot of inspiration from the rugby boys these past few weeks, watching their games together as a squad even though they started late here. Now we want a little bit of that success.”
Doing so will mean overcoming history for the Proteas who, in contrast to their rugby equivalents, have reached six men’s World Cup semi‑finals – ODIs and T20 – but never once gone further. And Australia? Their semi-final record reads: played 12, won nine (going on to lift the trophy six times, including here at Eden Gardens in 1987).
More relevant, perhaps, is their recent head-to-head record in ODI cricket, South Africa winning 15 of their past 18 encounters including the 2019 group‑stage finale that plunged Australia into a semi-final shellacking by England. In the pool phase this year, Quinton de Kock’s century stuck 311 for seven on the board in Lucknow for a 134-run victory.
But can South Africa escape the ghosts of their past? Temba Bavuma, a captain who says he is “not 100%” certain to play after a recent hamstring strain, was spared a direct question about the overused “chokers” tag during his press conference. And while this rivalry has burned red hot in years gone by, it may not emerge on the field either.
“Over the last year or two they’ve been very friendly,” says Klaasen. “Their front leaders in the abuse category have changed a bit, a guy like David Warner. You almost want him to come hard at you. We’ll see, they’re a weird bunch – in a good way. They’ll be competitive; they’re a world-class team. We just focus on our processes.”
These have processed seven wins and two defeats so far, leading to second place behind India in the table and a meteorological advantage. There are conflicting forecasts for the coming days, some of which predict a tropical cyclone rolling into Kolkata. In the event of a full washout (including the Friday reserve day ), South Africa would make the final.
South Africa v Australia semi-final teams
South Africa (possible): Temba Bavuma (c), Quinton de Kock (wk), Rassie van der Dussen, Aiden Markram, Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, Marco Jansen, Keshav Maharaj, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Tabraiz Shamsi.
Australia (possible): Travis Head, David Warner, Mitchell Marsh, Steven Smith, Marnus Labuschagne, Glenn Maxwell, Josh Inglis (wk), Pat Cummins (c), Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa, Josh Hazlewood
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The hunch is the Proteas would sooner get there on the field of play, not just banishing that tag but offering further vindication of their recent reinvention. They play their ODIs aggressively with the bat these days, a structured approach of building innings in phases that allows the likes of Klaasen and David Miller to explode towards the back end.
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This in part goes back to Klaasen himself taking one for the team earlier this year, publicly challenging the selectors to support a desire among the players to take things on with the bat by also allowing them to fail while doing so. Brendon McCullum’s New Zealand team, and then England’s rise under the loyalty of Eoin Morgan, was the template in mind here.
“It was a buildup of frustration and a lot of guys couldn’t say anything,” explains Klassen, a player in his early 30s with options who felt able to speak out. “Guys would be dropped and then move four places down [the pecking order]. Now we stay in a tight squad and rotate. I think [the selectors] got the message and you can see the results.”
There may well be a tweak incoming for this semi-final, a used surface at Eden Gardens could invite the left-arm finger spin of Keshav Maharaj – now the world’s No 1 ODI bowler – augmented by the left-arm wrist spin of Tabraiz Shamsi. Australia’s only frontline spinner is Adam Zampa, even if Glenn Maxwell’s off-breaks have proved more than handy to date.
This is one possible advantage in what otherwise looks the trickier of the two semi-finals to call. Like some of the undies in the Proteas’ dressing room, it could well be a tight one.
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