ICC Champions Trophy 2013 May 25, 2013

South Africa depart with understated expectations

South Africa go into the Champions Trophy with realistic expectations, especially without a few key figures in the fold

The hotel adjacent to Johannesburg's international airport is familiar with South African cricket's expectations. Whenever the team departs on an overseas assignment, they hold their media engagements in one of its conference rooms.

At such times the room is filled with a great sense of hope. Over the last two years, it has heard men like Corrie van Zyl and Graeme Smith talk about their goals, and make promises to bring back something for the South African public to be proud of. More times than not, they have fulfilled those aspirations.

The only time they have let the fans down is after major tournaments. So much so, that the hotel is also used to South African cricket's disappointment, because it is the same venue used for the press conference when they return home.

If the wood panelled walls could talk, they would tell of words like "dark mist," which Gary Kirsten used after the team returned empty handed after the 2012 World Twenty20. He did not make the mistake of saying this time will be different.

"I couldn't tell you we are going to win the event but we will give it our best shot," Kirsten said. "I don't do this job to win trophies even though I know I am measured by that. I love the work. I am trying to make the team the best they can be. If that ends in us making more progress than we have in previous knockout tournaments, I will be happy."

For the first time in recent memory, South Africa embarked on an ICC tournament without pledging to come back winners. It was a sobering status update: this team are not favourites.

They are without two of their most important players in Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith. They have a leader and wicketkeeper who is still finding his feet in AB de Villiers. A middle order with two players, Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy, who have not been active in weeks. A coach that will soon be on the way out come August, and a squad that has not been together in almost two months. So to expect them to come back with the trophy may be a little too much to expect.

Kirsten is not talking a big game because he doesn't have too much to advertise. All he hopes is that South Africa give a respectable account of themselves, and that amounts to enough for the people back home. "We're going to use the processes that we've used throughout the two years, which has brought us some good success in the Test arena. We are going to build on that as much as possible. There is no success package on the market that we can use to win. You need a bit of luck and [for] things to go your way. I am confident that we can compete."

In an attempt to replicate the results they produced on their tour of England last year, South Africa will once again enlist the services of explorer Mike Horn to be with the team while they spend five days in Amsterdam. Even though the team will only have half the time there with Horn, and have to play a warm-up match against the Netherlands on Friday, Kirsten hopes the camp will have a similar effect on the group.

"We will spend the majority of the time doing skills work. It will be important for guys who have played in the IPL to bring match intensity. We will rely on them heavily for that. We will also use the time to get out of the hype of the tournament in the UK," he said. "The significance of the Switzerland journey was the way we were able to pull together as a team. We're looking forward to being together again."

The squad that will assemble in the Netherlands on Monday is a very different unit to the one that beat England in a three-Test series last year. It does not have the same edge of experience, but it does carry great potential. Whether that will bear fruit this time around remains to be seen.

What Kirsten said is that he cannot guarantee it will, and he does not think South Africa cricket will be in crisis if it does not. The room at the hotel will be waiting to bear witness as to whether a less pressurised approach will work this time.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on May 28, 2013, 14:49 GMT

    As a big fan of S.A. cricket from '93 WC, I want to wish them good luck. Now, to all the Indian Cricket fans, As you have earned a lot of xp from great IPL and the facilities you get from the great Cricket board; Lets see what you can do? But It was ugly when we bring out the match fix things and you must know that Roshan Mahanama Srilanka Cricket Legend already expressed his doubt about the WC final of 2011 which was very technically handled by ICC and Indian C Board..

  • mahjut on May 28, 2013, 10:57 GMT

    I have, since 1999 when i started watching, always enjoyed WCs but as far as dealing with pressure goes ... really only two teams have ever had to seriously deal with it going into a WC; and that is OZ and SA. ...and even then post-'99 SAs 'top billing' was lip-service (they were not as good as Oz in 2003 - nor even 07).

    As for other teams "dealing with pressure" ... well, going in as underdogs and coming out on top is praiseworthy for the fact that the team pulled together as a team (but hardly because they conquered pressure!!!).

    Oz did defeat pressure in '99 & less in '07 , but having recognised their ability to cope with the pressure it must also be said that their team was in an exceptional head-space (with years of winning everything behind them AND with an incredibly balanced side with the big-hitting Gilchrist playing the part of allrounder - which made them the best team in 2003 and kept them in the headspace for 2007 - though by then questions were starting to be asked.

  • mahjut on May 28, 2013, 10:12 GMT

    what matters is not just winning ... of course in an age of instant ejaculation it may appear that way, but i seriously doubt the average supporter hopes their team wins for a decade and disappears for the next two like the WI (even to some extent OZ). India are always there or thereabouts in LO cricket and SA are always there or thereabouts in all forms. I tend to cherish the mace over the cup but it'd be nice to see SA win a WC (or one of these other tournys like this CL or WCT20) but, as an SA supporter, I am not too bothered if they don't if they continue putting out string teams in LO cricket along with being the best Test team (or at least the team to beat in Tests). good luck for the CL Trophy ... hope you don't run into NZ in the knockouts:). Are they even playing in this tourny!?

  • Arunkumar on May 28, 2013, 5:52 GMT

    @ Graydon Meneses - agree with you and well said..even I meant it in that way..cant compare both... @ Darkmanx12155 - thanks mate!

  • Arunkumar on May 28, 2013, 2:07 GMT

    @ Julie White - Mate y r u bringing Sachin into this..he was, is and will be the best the world has seen...so ur not talking cricket here and only criticizing Indian players right...see first thing is we all love SA and u shd know with the way we treated Gary Kirsten during his tenure...we respect SA players..coming to ur point..in 2003 the only team we lost against was AUS league stage and Final..and Sachin got MOS Sobers award for most runs..that too in ur backyard..SA won just 3 games that too against Ban, Can and Ken and they din even qualify for supers (THAT TOO IN HOME CONDITIONS - swinggg and greennnyy or wateva) LOL...atleast India did..stop talking about Ganguly...he atleast had the courage to form a team after 2000 (SCANDAL) and took it to finals. Same happened with SA (Hansie - Scandal)..u guys got rocked until Smithy took over..we salute u him the same way we do Ganguly...Cric Info please publish..

  • Harjinder on May 27, 2013, 21:19 GMT

    Thanks....JULIE WHITE....i have same kind of feelings.... i have seen every match ,played by Sa....I pray to god ...bless them this time .....1992.(bad rules)..1996 (bad luck).....(1998great time).... 1999 (so closed).....2003...2007 2011 ....bad selection......now again we have high hopes.....so good luck

  • Dark on May 27, 2013, 14:19 GMT

    @ Rbak_SRT - Well said mate..

    @Julie White - What matters is winning mate. If the flat track is good for Dhoni why can't ABD being such a good player, do well? Why couldn't SA win the world cup in the subcontinent in 2011 having such a good batting line up? They didn't even make it to the finals in their own grounds in 2003 mate... But India did... U get a life! Don't compare a GREAT who won two world cups for his country with ABD. Lets see how ABD is going to do with the burden of captaincy on his shoulders.

  • Dummy4 on May 27, 2013, 12:17 GMT

    @Shongololo Ugh. "Einstein's insanity definition" always annoys me. 1) it was not Einstein who said that 2) doing the same thing over and over might be stupid or foolish, but hardly insane 3) saying that SA has "done the same thing over and over - being conservative" is such a vast oversimplification, it suggests you didn't watch any World Cup competitions.

  • Dummy4 on May 27, 2013, 12:02 GMT

    @Rbak, Julie, Darmanx - I don't think you can compare AB and MSD. They are different players, different roles, come in at different times in the order. A stats comparison is meaningless.

    In general - The IPL is a LOT of cricket. Anyone who has played long tournaments will know how difficult it is to keep up personal motivation for such extended lengths. For that reason, I feel India will struggle in this competition.

  • Dummy4 on May 27, 2013, 11:43 GMT

    although i am a die hard fan of saf, i can't see they are winning it. they are hurting me from 1992. and they will never win any international cup.

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