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February 13, 2012
The truth about sport is that it is played as much in the mind as it is on the field. For South Africa's cricket team it is sometimes played entirely in the mind. During their tour of New Zealand, South Africa will not only face a test of skill but also one of temperament, against an opponent known for shrewdness, particularly at mind games.
"There's always a little bit of this and that when we play New Zealand, especially the last time we met in the World Cup," AB de Villiers, South Africa's ODI and Twenty20 captain, said on arrival in Wellington. "They won that game and we have a lot to prove in this series. I'm sure the game will be played very hard on the field but we are friends with most of the guys off the field."
In that World Cup quarter-final in Mirpur, New Zealand exerted tremendous pressure on South Africa, who were chasing a target of 222. There was a flashpoint after AB de Villiers was run out and several New Zealand players exchanged words with the other batsman Faf du Plessis. South Africa's chase unraveled and they collapsed for 172, when they had been 108 for 2 at one stage.
de Villiers said South Africa had "moved on" from that defeat and that this tour was not a revenge mission. "Obviously it hurt but we have new goals now and a lot to look forward to. We are a new unit with fresh faces. We play a different kind of cricket to what we have in the last few years. Mentally, we will have to be tested to see how strong we are."
Gary Kirsten, who became South Africa's coach only after the World Cup, preferred to focus on the cricket and not on verbal duels. "I don't think we are going to think too much about what New Zealand are doing. If we play really good cricket in terms of our skills and don't say anything, we will win more games than we will lose," Kirsten said. "If New Zealand feel that they want to get verbal with us, that's their business. The side that plays better cricket is going to win."
Both South Africa and New Zealand have momentum going into the series. South Africa beat Sri Lanka at home, and New Zealand just thrashed Zimbabwe in all formats. Despite the quality of New Zealand's opposition, de Villiers said they made a strong statement of intent. "I won't say it gave them a false sense of confidence because they really played well," de Villiers said. "But still, I'd like to say we are a better unit than Zimbabwe. We should be more competitive and we are going to go out there to win games."
Since de Villiers became the limited-overs captain, South Africa have been more aggressive and creative than before. "I like to try things. I like to be attacking. I am really enjoying it so far but I have only captained five games, so a lot to learn," de Villiers said. "I enjoy playing around with bowlers, with field placings as well. I like to stay one step ahead of the batters, to try and think what they are thinking about. I also like to think what I would find uncomfortable at the wicket, but it doesn't always pay off."
New Zealand is the first of three overseas tours for South Africa and a 3-0 victory in the Tests will earn them the No. 1 ranking. Kirsten said the management team had worked with the players to contextualise the New Zealand series. "We've got long-term plans and this is just another tour which is part of the process," he said. "We believe we have to put performances together in different parts of the world and this is an important tour for us in terms of what we want to achieve in the long term."
The tour comprises three T20s, three ODIs and three Tests. They start their visit with a T20 against Christchurch as part of the Earthquake Relief Campaign on Wednesday. The first international T20 is in Wellington on February 17.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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