All-rounders have been on the decline in international cricket for over a decade. Although I don't have actual figures at hand, there appear to be fewer in this tournament than in any of the other ICC events I have been lucky enough to participate in.
Defining the role
Of course, it depends on how you define an all-rounder. There are many batsmen who can also bowl a bit, and bowlers become more and more proficient with the bat as the years go by. Most cricketers, however, have a clear priority and concentrate more on just one discipline.
I can understand that trend, I really can. Over the years I've read countless stories of all-rounders who have been forced to give up one form of the game, or are made to concentrate more on their batting because their bodies fail to cope with the rigours of the ever-expanding international schedule.Built for rough roads
I must say I have been lucky in that I haven't had long-term injuries, but, on the other hand, I wouldn't want people to think that I was born lucky. I might have been blessed with a durable and long-lasting chassis, but I have also worked very hard over the years to maintain it in a reasonable working order. Like a car, I need regular servicing, and I can't drive around at full speed all the time!
The benefits of having a 'front line' all rounder (the definition, I suppose, is someone who can bat in the top five and also be relied upon to bowl between seven and 10 overs) is still very obvious to most teams. It provides the captain with alternatives and, in some cases, allows the team to select a potential match-winner who might also have a bad day and need some support.
A raw fast bowler might rip out two or three early wickets, or an attacking spinner might do so in the middle overs, but they might also be expensive. Likewise, every captain would like to pick a batsman capable of scoring 70 or 80 off 45 balls, but he might feel more inclined to take that 'risk' with an all rounder or two as 'insurance.'
Just like anyone
All that makes it sound as though the all rounder never fails. Not true. I am just as capable of making a duck or going for 10 an over as the next man; the only difference between me and the next man is that (hopefully) I won't do both in the same game.
South Africa have endured some heart-breaking moments at World Cups over the last couple of decades and have had moments where they haven't responded well to pressure. Yet I remain convinced that far too much has been made of our 'habit' of choking. The only thing we were guilty of perhaps was wanting to win the World Cup too much.
The fire's still raging
I still want to win the World Cup just as much as I ever did - as much as I did when I watched our country's first one as a schoolboy back in 1992. But I am more relaxed before this one than any of the others. It is my fifth, after all, and I'll be doing everything I can to help the 11 first-timers in our squad to relax, enjoy the occasion and welcome the pressure and weight of expectation, which comes every four years.