South Africa in England 2012 August 14, 2012

SA preparations come full circle


With South Africa's preparation for the final Test in the series against England almost complete, they have called on a special assistant to add the finishing touch. Explorer Mike Horn, famous for his solo full circle of the globe without motorised transport, has joined up with the camp in London to complete a journey that began at his home in Château d'Oex, Switzerland, before the tour began.

The squad spent four days with Horn before arriving in England on an excursion that was focused on gaining mental strength through physical exertion. Their challenges included cycling up Alpine slopes, hiking for miles and skiing. Although they will not be doing anything similar with Horn this time, his presence will serve as motivation as they approach the match that will determine whether they are crowned world No.1.

"He is an inspiration for us, he played a big role in our preparations before the tour and he will no doubt add value to our current team environment," Gary Kirsten, South Africa head coach, said.

Horn and Kirsten are friends who have worked together before, most notably during India's 2011 World Cup campaign, which ended in victory. The Indian squad did not shy away from crediting Horn with helping them believe they could achieve and Kirsten is hopeful he will have the same effect on the South African side.

"I can't come here and teach the players how to bat or to bowl," Horn admitted. "I am here to bring something away from the game. They have proven that they are a better team than before. There is a good ambience in the camp and the players are looking forward to performing better as a team. I'm not going to say much, I think my presence will say a lot."

Horn's impact on the changes made to the South African mindset are obvious. Jacques Kallis referred to it as simply a "very positive frame of mind," but it is more complex than that. There is a sense of confidence that did not run as deeply as before. Even Mark Boucher, the toughest, hardest member of the squad whose retirement was forced in the first match at Taunton after a horrific eye injury, admitted he had never been so severely challenged as he was in Switzerland.

Along with Boucher, other members of the squad called the camp the toughest few days of their lives. Dale Steyn remembered the a day when they scaled a 3,300-metre peak, which included a rope climb and an ice-field which exhausted most of the squad but left Horn looking like he had "just pitched up home after a stroll in the park".

The day did not end there as Horn then led them to the top of a 750-metre peak, on an uphill cycle for 7 kilometres. "Players used every swearword in the book, until they were too exhausted to swear… and there was still more to climb," Steyn wrote on his blog. "I had never been so physically exhausted in my life. But I was in Mike Horn territory, so I refused to get off my bike, refused to rest, refused to walk. I found reserves that I never knew I had.

"AB de Villiers said that he had never been that exhausted before and that he pushed harder than he had ever had in his life. He now knew he could do more than he believed."

A lot of the rhetoric the team squad has sprouted since that trip has been of a similar nature. It sounds contrived and candyfloss but the expedition to the Alps appears to have made a major difference to the South African mindset. Often criticised for collapsing at the crucial moment, South Africa have shown displays of fortitude in the series so far.

After a lacklustre start on the first day at The Oval, they returned to knock England back on the second morning and then batted them out of the match. When it looked like Kevin Pietersen was going to seize the series back for England at Headingley, South Africa returned to remove him swiftly the next morning. Having arrived in England with the mantra that winning crucial moments will win the series, South Africa have done that so far.

Their most crucial moments await at Lord's. Having Horn on the balcony to remind them of the things they have already conquered is what South Africa hope will spur them on to triumph in their biggest Test to date.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mathew on August 16, 2012, 0:04 GMT

    Alot of upset Ind fans (or SA fans depending on who is playing) for my last post. It is true Eng haven't beaten Ind in Ind for 3000 years or so. Vickey...which member of this team was playing 27 years ago? I said THIS team stands a very good chance against Ind even at home. I think it will be a hard fought series, we certainly won't be embarassed like your lot were over here. As for serving up dust bowls...for who exactly? Get some bowlers.

  • Steven on August 15, 2012, 21:08 GMT

    @ Pras_Punter You obviously have blinders on and don't follow all international cricket. You say Eng never win away from home; They became no.1 buy creaming Aus in the last ashes, in Aus! Go SA!!!

  • Dummy4 on August 15, 2012, 19:54 GMT

    as far as ranking is concerned INDIA got the top slot playing in their country and ENGLAND beating everyone in their backyard and the moment they faced a single AWAY series they were troubled................ but this South African side is really a good team having some good fast bowlers and solid batsmen as the Players Ranking shows.................. and they have won everywhere as their record depicts.................. they deserve this NO. 1 spot.............

  • Dummy4 on August 15, 2012, 19:48 GMT

    to everyone having a go at Pakistan as low ranked team............... go check the record of past 2 years.............. most highly ranked teams dont match their consistency under the cool and calm leadership of Misbah ul Haq who hasnt lost a series being as captain.............. and if anyone ll refer to the last Srilanka tour, I remind him that Misbah was not playing in the match Pak lost and if there be no rain, he would have secured A win ATLEAST to draw the series.............

  • Jay on August 15, 2012, 18:16 GMT

    @Pras_Punter: Seriously, friend your comment lacks complete logic. Of course India would prepare wickets to their strength !! That is what you call HOME advantage. It's up to England to adapt to those conditions and "TRY" to to beat India in India. Historically England have never managed to do that in last 30 years or so. Therefore, what else can we expect from them this time around ?! As an Indian fan, I still hope England can compete with India because it will be a pity when the Indian batsman feast on the English bowlers. I don't wish bad for England but we all need to know our history lessons. Besides, if SA couldn't play pace and swing, wouldn't good old England prepare grassy wickets to down them ? Hmm.. please think about it.

  • Vikas on August 15, 2012, 15:44 GMT

    @Pras_Punter - I don't know if you really follow English team. Please make your team win outside England (impossible task though) and then post such comments. The world saw how you crashed 3-0 to a low ranking team (Pak) outside your home conditions. I wish your team could play as well as they and you talk; probably you would have been No. 1 for years and not few months.

    So sit back relax and enjoy the last few days of being No. 1.

  • Prashant on August 15, 2012, 14:39 GMT

    So the whole debate of India preparing wickets to suit their style is moot because every team does that. That's what is called 'home advantage'. I'm not saying that's a good thing but that is definitely not wrong. Why would they knowingly prepare a green and seaming pitch which will not only make things difficult for themselves but also suit the visitors? Why would any team prepare conditions that are unfavorable to themselves and favor the tourists? India would be stupid to prepare anything other than dust bowls when England come knocking. The ball zipping past right and left and the English batsmen looking like ducks flapping in the water is a sight that I cannot wait to watch!

  • hibbatur on August 15, 2012, 13:24 GMT

    Its going to be a monumental effort for England if they have to stay at top, chances are bleak though!!

  • Ramana on August 15, 2012, 13:06 GMT

    Credit to SA team management for doing something different in preparing for a critical series. I hope SA beat England, get the No.1 ranking and get to bury the 'chokers' tag for good ! (altho that wl probably need a WC victory). Go SA !

  • venkat on August 15, 2012, 13:01 GMT

    i hope SA wont choke this time...

  • No featured comments at the moment.