ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
Ireland v South Africa, Group B, World Cup 2011, Kolkata
Smith searching for perfect game
Firdose Moonda at Eden Gardens
March 15, 2011
Relief is not an expression South Africa cricketers have worn often in World Cups, which may explain why Graeme Smith was donning it with such pride at his post-match press conference in Kolkata. South Africa's 131-run win over Ireland makes them the first team in Group B that is certain of a quarter-final spot. They also have a game in hand before the knockouts start.
"It's fantastic to have qualified already," Smith said. "Our group is pretty tense this week and it's nice that we don't have to deal with that tension for a change." Bangladesh, England, West Indies and India will fight it out for the remaining three spots, with India all but assured of a place.
It leaves South Africa with the clearest path to topping the group, which will mean they will take on whoever finishes fourth in Group A, currently Australia, but that could easily change. Smith is not allowing himself to get flustered by the permutations, saying that doing so is futile. "It doesn't matter who you play in the quarters, you have to win that game. It's pointless trying to nitpick and plan."
Instead, what he wants to work on is South Africa mastering the art of playing the perfect game, something he feels they haven't managed in the five matches they've played so far. "In every game there's probably something you can say we haven't done well. The first 10-14 overs against India with the ball and we didn't finish with the bat against England."
In the match against Ireland, it was again the batting that Smith was not happy with. "We got ourselves into a bit of trouble today, with some stupid run outs." His own form is also a concern with the 45 he scored in the first match against West Indies in Delhi still his top score. Smith has looked scratchy in his other knocks but it hasn't mattered for the team as a whole because someone in the line-up has always contributed. Smith insists that a big innings is imminent. "I have been hitting the ball well in the nets. When I do come right, I will make it count and I look forward to contributing."
Even though he hasn't been able to play a major role with the bat, it's his leadership that the team are blossoming under. "In every game we've fixed what we did wrong in the previous game. Now, we need to play a full 100 overs."
Their remaining group match against Bangladesh presents them with an opportunity to do that. South Africa have been clear that they are not using any matches to experiment, and that any juggling of the starting XI is based solely on conditions and suitability. "We'll go to Bangladesh with a mindset to win but we'll also have to look at our injuries."
Legspinner Imran Tahir should be available for selection after completing his 10-day rest period for a fractured thumb and AB de Villiers should have recovered from a thigh muscle strain. Dale Steyn, who felt discomfort in his side in the match against Ireland, should also be fit, but Smith said they "will consider using Lonwabo Tsotsobe or Wayne Parnell."
The options available to South Africa leaves the selection committee spoilt for choice but also with a tough task, since juggling players who are all performing is as difficult as juggling those who are searching for form. It's exactly the situation South Africa wanted to create for themselves as they approach the crescendo of their tournament - which is still some time away. "If you have a team where everybody can contribute on the day, you are not reliant on one or two people," Smith said.
It's not just the performance that Smith is satisfied with, it's the responses that the team have had in the various situations and surfaces they've played on that he is happy with too. "Everywhere we have played in India the surfaces have been so different and we've adapted well. We've hung in there when we needed to, we've been able to pounce when we needed to and that's been very exciting to me."
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