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AB de Villiers of South Africa works on wicketkeeping in a training session at MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, India. ((Lee Warren/Getty Images))

With concern over the fitness of leading allrounder Jacques Kallis and with a relatively inexperienced squad, South Africa won't object to going into a World Cup as an underdog for a change.

A subdued buildup may suit the Proteas this time after a series of dramatic failures in previous tournaments when tipped for overall victory.

South Africa has lost three semifinals in five World Cup appearances, leaving the country with the unwanted reputation as the most consistent underachiever in the 50-over showpiece.

Kallis' recovery from a niggling right side injury is the biggest question mark over South Africa's bid for its first major ODI title.

South Africa

  • Graeme Smith (captain)
  • Hashim Amla
  • Johan Botha
  • AB de Villiers
  • JP Duminy
  • Faf du Plessis
  • Colin Ingram
  • Jacques Kallis
  • Morne Morkel
  • Wayne Parnell
  • Robin Peterson
  • Dale Steyn
  • Imran Tahir
  • Lonwabo Tsotsobe
  • Morne van Wyk

The Proteas also have a largely untested middle order; a spinner who has only just become naturalized and has never played international cricket; a fast bowler-dominated attack which could be pegged back by the slow subcontinental pitches; and an apparent mental block when it comes to big events.

Kallis, who has been to three World Cups, captain Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers and Robin Peterson are the survivors from 2007, where the then top-ranked South Africa lost to eventual winner Australia in yet another semifinal.

The team management says Kallis, South Africa's leading runscorer and fourth-highest wicket taker in ODIs, will be ready to play "a full role with both bat and ball from the start of the tournament." But others are concerned. Without the world's leading allrounder in top form, South Africa's batting and bowling suffers.

The exclusion of experienced wicketkeeper Mark Boucher, seamer Charl Langeveldt and big-hitting allrounder Albie Morkel also means South Africa has put its faith in a new breed of players which it hopes will be unaffected by previous World Cup misery.

"The young guys bring something fresh and new and we can work with that," skipper Smith said. "They have got a lot of good energy and if we can put that attacking mindset together and be a little bit street smart we have a really good chance."

South Africa is more comfortable with a good chance, rather than the overwhelming favourite tag which has weighed it down before.

Newcomers Colin Ingram and Faf du Plessis, young allrounder Wayne Parnell and improving left-arm seamer Lonwabo Tsotsobe are set to play important roles.

They will be backed by the experienced Smith and Kallis and inform players Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. Opener Amla, the top-ranked ODI batsman, scored more ODI runs than any other player in 2010. Steyn and Morkel are arguably the world's leading fast bowling combination.

And the selection of the well-travelled, 31-year-old Pakistan-born legspinner Imran Tahir as one of three specialist spinners has attracted plenty of attention.

The Proteas already have spinning options with Peterson and Johan Botha but in Tahir, who only qualified for his adopted country on the last day of 2010, they have an attacking spin bowler who is capable of match-winning performances — something South Africa has never had at a World Cup.

Tahir is yet to make his international debut, but he could provide a crucial, final piece of the puzzle for the Proteas on the spin-friendly pitches.

"We think he's a unique talent," chief selector Andrew Hudson said. And it's not a worry that Tahir has not played an ODI yet.

"We know exactly what he offers us."

Smith added it was a "tactical decision" to keep the former Pakistan A representative under wraps.

"He's someone we want to keep fresh and not allow people the opportunity to see too much," he said.

The performances of Tahir, Tsotsobe, Du Plessis, Ingram, Parnell and No. 5 batsman JP Duminy will likely be key. The team is strong up front in both batting and bowling but its middle order batsmen and backup bowlers are unproven.

South Africa was inconsistent in its most recent ODI series, at home against India, and rode batting collapses and bowling struggles before a come-from-behind 3-2 series win.

"I think we have learnt some important lessons and it's nice to learn them now," Smith said following the series. "Some of the decisions we made at times let us down.

"It's been hard cricket and we needed to be at our best to win, which is what you want. I really am excited about our opportunity to go to the World Cup and play."

The victory was well-timed as co-host India are in South Africa's group at the World Cup, along with England, West Indies, Bangladesh, Ireland and Netherlands.

The international betting markets in Britain last week listed India, England and Australia at shorter odds to win the title than South Africa.

For Smith, who will give up the one-day captaincy following the tournament, and the 35-year-old Kallis, two of the country's best players, it's likely to be a last chance to prove the doubters wrong and to taste World Cup success.

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