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World Cup 2011

South Africa depart amid huge support, Smith optimistic

Firdose Moonda

February 8, 2011

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Graeme Smith at a press conference before he departs to the subcontinent for the World Cup, Johannesburg, February 8, 2011
Graeme Smith does not want South Africa to already start thinking about the knockout stage of the World Cup © AFP
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Players/Officials: Graeme Smith | Corrie van Zyl
Series/Tournaments: ICC Cricket World Cup
Teams: South Africa

There was a band playing outside the Sandton Sun hotel where the South African team were leaving for the airport to head to the subcontinent. It was a typically African band complete with rhythmic drumming and shakers, and played a beat that captured a certain South African essence, the essence of a country that prides itself for living by the concept of Ubuntu - I am because we are.

Ubuntu is also the name of Cricket South Africa's latest campaign - a roadshow that is travelling to every province in the country to galvanise support for the national team. They've gone to all corners, even other sporting codes.

The national rugby coach, Peter de Villiers and lock Victor Matfield, were at the farewell function for the cricketers last week. Today, footballers Ricardo Katze and Calvin Marlin presented Smith with a football for the team to play with when they need some downtime.

There's a massive sense of déjà vu to eight months ago, when the country was encouraged to rally behind the football team, Bafana Bafana, during the World Cup. Bands were heard in every shopping centre, at every fan park and even on random street corners. It's their music which convinced South Africans that they were one, and CSA are hoping the beats can do that again ahead of the cricket World Cup. So far, it's worked.

"We've had so much wonderful support and the energy around the country has been terrific," Graeme Smith said. "We'll get on the plane today knowing that there are a lot of people behind us, and knowing that we represent those people, and hopefully we can do them proud."

It sounds like massive burden for the squad to bear, especially because South Africa are yet to win a World Cup. The expectation this time is slightly less than it's been in previous years, perhaps because people are reluctant to hope too much, but the silent strain is still there. This team is still expected to do what has not been done before. "As an international sportsman, pressure is a part of your life, whether it's walking down the street or walking out to bat," Smith said. "If we can play some good cricket upfront and get some confidence going, hopefully this team can achieve some great things."

South Africa's tournament begins on February 24 against West Indies, a team who, in the past, have enjoyed being a banana-skin side for them in the World Cup, beating them in the quarter-final in 1996 and in the opening game in 2003.

South Africa don't want to place too much importance on the match simply because it's their opening game. "It's important to get off to a good start in a competition like this but it's not the be all and the end all," Corrie van Zyl, South Africa's coach, said. "If we are going to be really result-driven and worry about the outcome of that game, it may trip us."

The phrase result-driven made it into both van Zyl's and Smith's answers many times, and both were insistent that adopting the attitude of obsessing about winning will be dangerous. "Because of the history we are so worried about whether we will get past the quarter-finals or the semi-finals," van Zyl said. "If we can keep our focus on each day, each game and all our processes, and focus on what what we are doing at present, it will take away that sort of pressure." South Africa have reached the knockout stages in four out of five World Cups but have been unable to progress to a single final.

This time their approach is different. Smith joked that the only way to prepare for the knockouts would be by "not preparing," and that thinking of that stage of the tournament is "getting too far ahead of ourselves." He said that the team simply wants to build up good form, starting in the first warm-up match on Saturday against Zimbabwe where "we can achieve our own goals and make sure everyone gets a run."

For Smith, it's the last opportunity to achieve his goals as a limited-overs captain. Having led the one-day team since 2003, and will step down after the World Cup. He believes that the eight years of experience as a leader is now at its climax. "I am best prepared to lead the side in this World Cup. I would love to walk away knowing I've given my best."

van Zyl thinks the best really is possible, because the tournament is the culmination of "eight to nine months of work" in which South Africa have played one-day series in India, West Indies, and the UAE. "We were preparing for subcontinent conditions and strategies that will be applicable for those conditions. We've got a good squad with a lot of options."

He said this with the same sort of confidence that another man, Carlos Alberto Parreira, who was then the coach of the South African football team, used to have. Parreira and his team won the hearts of South Africans even though they could not progress to the second round. The South African cricket team will not have that luxury, but they may not need it because what van Zyl does have that Parreira didn't, is a team that are genuine contenders for the title.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

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Comments: 27 
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Posted by Dummy4 on (February 9, 2011, 19:05 GMT)


Posted by nalin on (February 9, 2011, 13:22 GMT)

The obvious concern about this side is the lack of genuine all rounders except Kallis who may have injury concerns. 1999 side had Kallis-Boucher-pollock-Kluesner combination- an incredible depth of batting that in this world cup would be necessary in powerplays.The only teams that ticks all the boxes are India and SL. The lack of a great side in this world cup like AUS in the last 3 WCs and WINDIES in the first 3 WC means that when the Quarterfinal lottery comes along any of the 8 sides could win.I agree with Marktc that SA,india,SL and Australa are favorites. Pakistan could cause an upset .England need a form reversal ,NZ and WI are mediocre and they all can hope.

Posted by Derick on (February 9, 2011, 13:04 GMT)

Being and Indian i support sa as my 2nd favourate.i will support SA in every matches(except if ind-sa match happens) Go proteas go. U have 8/10 chance to win wc. WELCOME TO INDIA..

Posted by ntokozo on (February 9, 2011, 10:33 GMT)

I agree with diri, S.A for sure. The other guys don't stand a chance. The Poms (or S.A reserve) are full of S.A rejects and will do well to win a game. Aus without grandpa Hussey will thank the format to reach the Qauters, NO more than that. All the subcontinet teams will get thrashed in their own conditions. Pak are on a high after beating the useless Kiwis who got thrashed 4 - 0 by ordinary teams like Ind and Bang, but are too controversial to do well. Ind are stable but won't be able to find a decent bowling line-up before the WC and will again buckle under media pressure. Srilanka will not fare too well iether bcoz of overrated bunnies like Mahela, Sanga, and not to mention the "tricky" Mendis. Murali is a chucker and all those are bound to get found out. WI are over-reliant on Gayle and will return early. The Kiwis?, oh well!. None of the minnows stands even a small chance. Point is, nobody is standing in the way of my classy team S.A. They'll show the world what cricket is.

Posted by Mark on (February 9, 2011, 10:13 GMT)

Although one cannot count out SLanka or Australia, I would predict a SA VS India final. And a fitting final it will be. The positive thing is Smith is not talking over confidently this time. He seems to be cautious, which is far better. Good luck to all the teams.

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 9, 2011, 9:17 GMT)

If South Africa fail to win the World cup and most importantly loose in the Knock out round .The tag chokers will labeeled them permanently.As ever We all know they will perform well in group stages no doubt but after in sudden death round proteas are no hopers given their previous so many records

Posted by diren on (February 9, 2011, 9:15 GMT)

From the comments on this article and other articles i sense that SA is everyones second favourite team. Even people from India want SA to win this WC and not India....And there is this feeling that this is going to be the WC were SA show the world they are the champs.I can feel it...this WC is special and is in a special place (India). If there is a place where us the people of SA want our team to win the cup then it will be in India because they have helped us alot in the last 16years

Posted by diren on (February 9, 2011, 9:13 GMT)

From the comments on this article and other articles i sense that SA is everyones second favourite team. Even people from India want SA to win this WC and not India....And there is this feeling that this is going to be the WC were SA show the world they are the champs.I can feel it...this WC is special and is in a special place (India). If there is a place where us the people of SA want our team to win the cup then it will be in India because they have helped us alot in the last 16years

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 9, 2011, 8:43 GMT)

Best of luck to SA. A lot of Bangladeshis will be cheering for you. Play in the spirit of the game.

Posted by Harjinder on (February 9, 2011, 7:24 GMT)

Hi SA fans !I feel (saw),first time, Mr SMITH is very-very confidient about SA unit, so Yes I am also sure that SA willl touch the best this time.Everybody need to set a goal to play with a perfect game plan ,because in sub-continent ,South Africa should have 300 runs in every match.So SA batsmen have to play by overs like (first 10,next 5,next 5 and..............)with this factor they can mantain the run-rate as well as saving the total. come on guys this is the last chance ; 1992 to 2011 GOOD LUCK

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