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Firdose Moonda in Birmingham
June 8, 2013
It's easy to spot a South African player at this Champions Trophy. They are the ones searching for every speck of sun they can find and shivering even while standing in it. The coldest British spring in half a century is the equivalent of Johannesburg on some of its worst days, and even though the team has come prepared - with their signature green jerseys replaced by thick, blue and yellow fleece ones - they are all desperate for warmer days.
Not least Gary Kirsten, who has managed to find a slice of sunshine, so to speak, despite the gloomy forecast which has hit his squad. With Morne Morkel ruled out of the tournament and Dale Steyn racing against time to right a side strain before Monday, South Africa's chances are thought to have nosedived but Kirsten wants to turn into a positive.
"I've been with this team for two years. Morne has been injured once and Dale has never been injured. Now it's come together. That's a curveball," he admitted at the team's Saturday morning training session at Edgbaston. "But I'd like to think that if we've grown as a one-day team, guys can replace them and do well. We can either use it as an excuse when we play badly or it can be an opportunity for some new guys to come in and make an impact in as tough a competition as you can get."
This is no World Cup but the condensed format adds to the pressure and we all know the strained relationship South Africa have with that emotion. Even if it was a hit-and-giggle backyard competition with no prize money, the team would still be under strain, and slowly they are starting to admit why. "We've got history, we've got scarring from the past and you feel it," Kirsten said.
They've also got their most unsettled unit at a major tournament in recent history. Out of the mish-mash, Kirsten hopes to make magic. At the cauldron of Cardiff, he did not succeed. Despite the margin of victory, 26 runs, South Africa were not in the game in the last quarter. After Robin Peterson, JP Duminy and AB de Villiers were dismissed within three overs, the chase was over and Ryan McLaren's 71, impressive as it was, only served the purpose of narrowing net run rate margins.
Defeat to India means unless South Africa beat Pakistan in Birmingham, they will face a conundrum of calculations to qualify for the semi-finals. In essence, their knockout is almost already here and they have to face it with what some would consider a second-rate attack.
Kirsten dismissed that as nothing but talk and instead focused on the more pressing issue of a quick turnaround. "We want to have five fast bowlers that we can pick at any point. I don't see our fast bowlers as 'one is better than the other'," he said. "We don't have much time. We've got to play well from here on in. So we have to play well and not half-well."
At least, from Kirsten's perspective, the team has been here before and has learnt something from their previous experiences. South Africa were locked at 2-2 in their five-match March series against Pakistan and beat them in the final ODI. That will be the first source of inspiration.
"They are a dangerous team and they have got one of the better bowling units in world cricket at the moment. They have got great variety in their attack. We saw that in South Africa, but I think we played really well to win that series," Kirsten said.
The other positive will be provided by the newcomer. Even if Steyn recovers in time to play, and there is some hope he might, Chris Morris is likely to make his ODI debut, in Morkel's place. "I told him it's not a nice thing to do to him, that he is just two days out and will have to play, but he may have to," Kirsten said. "He comes with confidence which is important."
And the last bit of motivation will have to come from what Kirsten hopes is a reversal of trend. "Generally what we do is play very well and then lose, so maybe it's not a bad thing that we haven't fired yet. I like to think of that as a bit of an omen," he said. "But the problem with this competition is that we can't have another bad game because then we're out of the competition." If that happens, South Africa's sun will blotted out until the next fifty-overs competition.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala