Arthur eyes Gibbs recall
Pressure sits like a razor-sharp knife on the edge of a table, waiting to be tipped over and chop off someone's toes, or be moved gently, so that its blunt side faces the danger end. The last time South Africa faced England in a major tournament was with the blade pointing straight at them. That was two years ago, at the 2007 World Cup and South Africa were desperate for a win to stay in the Super Eight stage of the competition.
On that occasion, South Africa managed to avert being stabbed in the foot and instead beat England by nine wickets. The situation is almost as dire this time, where defeat to England will mean yet another embarrassing exit from a major tournament on home soil. Mickey Arthur thinks the jagged edge is once again aimed South Africa's way, but backs his side to deal with it. "I think we started the tournament poorly and we've steadily got better," he told Cricinfo. "We were at about 75% against New Zealand, and if we can get to between 90 and 100%, I know we'll be fine."
Even though South Africa will go into the match with a victory of their own in the bank, it's difficult to judge which team has the greater impetus. The hosts lost to the same Sri Lankan side that England dispatched with disdain. England are also building winning momentum, something AB de Villiers believes is the key to winning a tournament. After beating Australia in the seventh match of an otherwise forgettable one-day series for England, they also triumphed over Sri Lanka. Arthur recognises that stringing victories together aids the team's self belief. "We know they are feeling confident because it was an important victory for them," Arthur said. "They played really well against Sri Lanka and must be on a bit of a high."
The match will be played in Centurion, on a wicket that have England have not seen yet, and which in all likelihood will not provide the same pace and bounce as the Wanderers track. Arthur expects England's bowlers may have to work a lot harder to get wickets this time. "Even though it's not the same pitch we played on against Sri Lanka, I still think it's going to be fairly dead." Despite that Arthur thinks England's fast bowlers will still have a role to play. "James Anderson is their best bowler and he is obviously their danger man so we'll have to watch out for him."
South Africa will stick to their two-pronged spin attack because Arthur believes in the value of variation, but there may still be a change in starting XI. Herschelle Gibbs is fit for selection, after recovering from a rib injury. Graeme Smith hinted that Hashim Amla could keep his place at the top of the order, saying "consistent selection will probably stand", but Arthur has indicated otherwise. "We need to sit down and think about where Herschelle is in his game. He trained well earlier today but I also want to wait to see if there are any ramifications of his injury. Our policy has usually been to go back to the incumbent when someone has been out injured. He was the incumbent so we may go back to that."
Arthur also said he thinks the English batting may be their strength going into the match. "What I liked about their batting was that they were not hugely aggressive against Sri Lanka. All the batsmen chipped in with something." He did, however, single out one batsman: "I liked the look of [Eoin] Morgan - there's definitely something there."
The South African team may not have the advantage of a fresh face like Morgan or a run of two consecutive victories but they can take some encouragement out of their progression in the tournament. The most important thing for Arthur is that the team continues to "play our own brand of cricket which is to play with high intensity and be ruthless at the basics." Even if that means driving a blade straight through the core of England's line-up and twisting it for good measure.
Firdose Moonda is a freelance writer based in Johannesburg