ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
South Africa v West Indies, World Cup 2011, Group B, Delhi
'We've covered every base' - Smith
Firdose Moonda in Delhi
February 23, 2011
Graeme Smith is ready to "leave it all out there" when he captains South Africa for the last time in an ODI tournament, starting on Thursday against the West Indies in Delhi. "I feel I am best prepared going into this tournament as I have been throughout my career. I am just excited to be able to lead the guys."
So ready is he that he almost left it all out there when a reporter persisted in asking if Smith thought the team would be able to drop the chokers tag, given their record under pressure. When Smith said that there is a "luck element" in tournaments such as this, the journalist went on to ask if South Africa's nerves often undid any luck that the team may have secured. Smith sneered in reply. "So you have been out in the middle, you will understand that?"
No one on the outside can really understand the unique kind of pressure that has weighed South Africa down, or how stoically they've had to deny that it's had any effect on them. Every few years, when questions like the one above get asked, we get a small glimpse into the burden of underachievement South Africa cricketers carry. It's why each tournament, for them, seems bigger and more important than the previous one and why this one is "the biggest tournament" for this group of players to date.
"A lot of the guys who are here for the first time have definitely said that," Smith said. "The expectation, the energy around India and before we left, the things that were going on around the group, especially compared to the other World Cups, this is a lot bigger."
The heightened importance of this tournament may stem from the fact that South Africa have brought their most dynamic line-up to a major competition, especially in the bowling department. "It's the most variety that we have ever had," Smith said. "We now have pace, we have bounce, we have left-armers, we have got a few spin options." The variation means that South Africa hope they will be "a lot harder to prepare against" because their starting XI is going to be more elastic than it has been in the past. "Tactically we have got our ideas about how we would like to set up in this tournament. We have covered every base there and we are really excited to get going."
South Africa have been training in India for just over two weeks and although that time has allowed the squad to settle in, there is still an element of uncertainty going into their first game in the World Cup. The Feroz Shah Kotla stadium is hosting its first match after a 14-month ban it incurred in December 2009 for having a dangerous pitch. It has been since relaid, with a surface that promises even bounce, but Smith said neither side knows what to expect from it. "It's an unknown factor for all of us. But I think you can see they have made a really big effort out here."
It's also the first time Smith will use the Umpire Decision Review System in a one-day international and it may prove tricky when the team is in the field because "with our bowlers, every decision is out," Smith said. "I'll have to trust AB also because I am not always going to be in a position to really judge the lines and where the ball has pitched."
What's not a first is coming up against the West Indies in the opening match of a World Cup. The last time that happened, South Africa were put to the sword by a blustering innings from Chris Gayle. Smith is wary of not allowing the same kind of flamboyant performance to undo South Africa again. "They have guys who on their day can really punish you and take the game away from you. That's why in Cup competitions, they are a very dangerous opponent to come up against."
The West Indies struggle with consistency, as Smith noted, and often fall away in a four- or five-match series, but playing them in a one-off match is as much a competition as playing anyone else. Their strategy is based on a certain casual yet colourful flair. In many ways, on their day, they are side that leaves it all there. To see them come against a South African captain who hopes to do the same promises an explosion.
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Plays of the Day from second ODI between South Africa and Pakistan, in Port Elizabeth