South Africa have had an excellent couple of years in Tests and to a lesser extent limited-overs cricket. The absence of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis from the squad for the Champions Trophy will hurt the Proteas. But they have a host of young and exciting talent looking to perform of the big stage. Here are five:
AB de Villiers: Abraham Benjamin de Villiers leads the South African side to England in June, knowing that anything but victory in the tournament will be considered as failure. One of the best players in limited-overs cricket, De Villiers can switch roles in his batting with ease. From being the aggressor in one instance, AB can hold forth in another. Add to this his fielding, wicket-keeping and captaincy skills and South Africa have one of the most complete cricketers in the modern era.
Along with teammate Hashim Amla, De Villiers tops the ODI batting charts and 5542 runs in 138 ODIs.
AB has an impressive record in the Champions Trophy as well. In the last two editions, he has scored 240 runs in six games, at an average of 48.
But this time around De Villiers has the burden of captaincy. With no back-up keeper in the South African squad, the 29-year-old will have multiple responsibilities. The charismatic AB is building an aura and a legend around himself. What better way to go about it than delivering the ICC Champions Trophy.
Hashim Amla: In One-day International cricket Hashim Amla has a staggering average of 57.21, that put him head-and-shoulders above his peers. The No.1 ranked Test and ODI batsman carries the expectations of an expectant nation at the 2013 Champions Trophy.
Since a young age, Hashim Amla was touted as a future captain for the South African national side. He has not been handed the reins but Amla has an even larger role to play in the absence of stalwarts Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis. As a senior member of the side, Amla in effect will be sharing captaincy duties with De Villiers positioned behind the stumps.
On what is likely to be batting friendly surfaces in England, Amla's performance with the willow will be proportional to their final showing. With a technique that is more suited to the Test format, Amla has brushed aside skepticism and cemented a spot in South African colours. In 68 ODIs, he has scored 3433 runs, but it is his strike rate of 91.15 that is the most impressive. Amla had a disappointing Champions Trophy at home in 2009, when South Africa crashed out at the league stages, scoring 40 runs in two games.
During the early stages of his career, his soft-spoken demeanor was mistaken for weakness. Now this 'silent assassin' is the biggest threat in the South African batting unit.
Faf du Plessis: After the 2011 World Cup quarterfinal loss to New Zealand, many thought Francois du Plessis to be among the 'fall guys' of yet another disastrous showing at an ICC tournament. But he knuckled down and now captains the South African Twenty20 side and has stood-in for AB de Villiers in ODIs on a few occasions.
A middle-order batsman by trade, Du Plessis can bat anywhere from No.1 to No.7 in the line-up. His versatility doesn't end there as he bowls deceptive leg-breaks and is a quick and agile fielder.
Du Plessis' stock rose after he saved a famous Test in Adelaide against Australia in 2012 and is now a permanent fixture for South Africa across all 3 formats. In 32 ODI matches, Du Plessis has scored 729 runs and the 28-year-old will look to improve on that in the Champions Trophy in England.
Dale Steyn: Deadly, Fast, Mean, Accurate, Nasty, Scary eyes - words that have been used to describe Dale Steyn. Over the past few years, Steyn has developed in to the best fast bowler in the world.
In Test cricket he is unstoppable, and despite having played far fewer limited-overs games than expected, he forms a potent threat. Steyn constantly bowls at over 140 kmph but what differentiates him from the large quarry of pacers is his pinpoint accuracy.
His pace and accuracy have yielded 100 wickets in 72 One-day Internationals at an average of 29. Steyn will relish the seaming conditions and can draw on South Africa's fruitful tour of England last year. He will want to improve on South Africa's poor showing in the Champions Trophy last time around, when Steyn picked 6 wickets in 3 games.
To end with the words of cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle: "It is human nature to underrate the present and grossly overrate the past, but if you outlaw that trait, the time has come to place Dale Steyn among the greatest..."
Morne Morkel: Alongside Dale Steyn stands a 6'6" pacer Morne Morkel who forms part of arguably the most feared pace attack since the West Indian quartet of Holding, Garner, Marshall and Roberts. Morne Morkel will be playing in his first ICC Champions Trophy but that will not reduce the burden of expectation from the South African fans.
An excellent One-day International bowler, Morkel has 104 wickets in 60 ODIs at a miserly average of 23.20 and a strike rate of 28 balls per wicket. With his height and high-arm action, Morkel generates tremendous bounce and pace and will be a handful for batsmen.
Alongside Steyn, Morkel will team up with Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Rory Kleinveldt as South Africa look to steamroll their way to Champions Trophy success.
Story first published on: Thursday, 23 May 2013 17:57 IST