ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
World Cup 2011
South Africa depart amid huge support, Smith optimistic
February 8, 2011
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.