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September 22, 2004
South Africa's shellshocked cricket team arrived back home on Tuesday night, with their captain, Graeme Smith, brushing aside the relevance of his side's slump into the bottom four of the recently-updated one-day international rankings.
At the start of the year South Africa were second in the rankings, but since then they have been given hidings in New Zealand and Sri Lanka, and were bundled out of the Champions Trophy in the very first round. Consequently they are now eighth, ranked alongside Zimbabwe, Kenya and Bangladesh.
Smith, however, appeared unconcerned when asked at a press conference in Johannesburg how he felt about his side's tumble down the rankings. "There are a minimal amount of points between No. 2 and No. 8," he said. "It will just take one series win to send us back up again."
Of far more pressing concern, according to Smith and the team's coach Eric Simons, is that the team are lacking confidence after their unprecedented run of defeats.
"The squad have been superb practice-wise and I can't criticise their work ethic, preparation or motivation," said Smith. "Maybe we're actually trying too hard and have tried to force one or two things. It's got to the stage now where there's almost a fear of losing and maybe that's why we didn't drive it home when we were in winning positions."
Simons also pointed to the team's lack of confidence, but he believed five weeks of domestic cricket could provide the solution ahead of the daunting tour to India.
"From the sidelines their lack of self-belief was evident," said Simons. "They just need to turn round that confidence in their own ability. Winning is a habit, but now they are scared of losing.
"Playing back in conditions that they are more comfortable in is just what the guys need right now and in their next five games with their franchises it is vital that they find some confidence and form."
Smith added that it was important that the players went out and dominated in provincial cricket, to prove they are the best players available.
The future of Simons, a former one-day international player, as coach of the South Africans is obviously in doubt, but he is not about to quit. "We've had a run of bad form," he admitted, "but I will never walk away from a challenge.
"But whatever the decision of the National Cricket Committee [NCC], I will accept it because it's up to them to decide what the solutions are and what we need to do from here."
The NCC will meet with the South African team management on September 30.
Ken Borland is a journalist with the MWP Sports Agency in South Africa.