AB de Villiers predicts silverware for South Africa
AB de Villiers has predicted a stream of South African success at major tournaments, which he hopes will start next month. The ODI captain did not remember that his countrymen captured the inaugural Champions Trophy but is confident they can claim the last and many others after that.
"We haven't won an ICC trophy yet even though we are the No.1 Test team in the world but I've got a feeling there are a few to come in the next few years" he told Dutch radio NOS in Amsterdam, where the South African squad have set up camp. "We are just going to have to wait patiently. We are doing the small things right. The work ethic is there, the talent is there and the belief is there, so we've just got to go out there and give it our best shot."
De Villiers is the first member of the South Africa group to make public the team's real expectations of the Champions Trophy, after Gary Kirsten played down their chances on their departure. As suspected, South Africa have every intention of discarding their chokers' tag in England and are feeling the heat as the event gets closer.
"There is always some pressure," de Villiers said. "We are a very talented cricketing nation and we understand there are some responsibilities in performance. We would love to say we are just going to go and enjoy it but it's more complicated than that. We've got to win some big games and we would love to win the trophy. I think we are preparing in the right way."
In an attempt to replicate the success on last year's Test tour of England, when South Africa claimed the Test championship mace, Kirsten has taken the squad to Amsterdam. They met up with explorer Mike Horn and did a cycle and canoe tour of the city before getting down to the business of net sessions.
Wet weather has not dampened South Africa's plans. Despite 42mm of rain falling on Wednesday night, the groundstaff was able to dry the surface sufficiently for practice to get under way as planned at 10am on Thursday. That was the last training session before an ODI against the Netherlands tomorrow, the first of two warm-up matches before the tournament starts.
The fixture against the Netherlands is a particularly important one because it will be the first time in 67 days that South Africa will take the field as a team. It will also be the first opportunity for nine of their squad to get game time after a break of almost two months.
JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis (both because of injury), Rory Kleinveldt, Hashim Amla, Robin Peterson, Aaron Phangiso, Farhaan Behardien, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Colin Ingram have not played any cricket since the end of the South African season. The rest will be relied on to bring "match intensity," Kirsten said. De Villiers, David Miller, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Ryan McLaren were in action at the IPL and while Alviro Petersen played in England.
While much of the focus has been on the batsmen, and the middle order in particular, South Africa will also want their quicks to find their rhythm quickly. Both Kleinveldt and Peterson expect the tournament to be more of a bowler-headlined spectacle because of the time of year, the conditions and the opposition.
"I wouldn't be surprised if there are a few low scoring games," Kleinveldt said. "I watched the Test and saw Jimmy Anderson swinging it. There should be plenty for the bowlers."
And Peterson believes South Africa's bowlers in particular will benefit. "Dale and Morne looked really impressive in the IPL." he said. "With two new white balls and India and West Indies in our group, we can do well. Their batting line-ups tend to dominate more on subcontinental surfaces."
Steyn and Morkel may be rested for the Holland match so South Africa can ensure all parts of their machine are working as they should be before they head to England. But they also know they will not be able to get away with a below-par performance against a much lower-ranked team.
They've done their homework on the Dutch. Netherlands batsman Stephan Myburgh is a former schoolmate of de Villiers' and the brother of Johann Myburgh, who played for the Titans in South Africa before moving to New Zealand.
"I know Stephan from the age of nine," de Villiers said. "I am very happy for him that he got his chance to play international cricket, I am very proud of the fact that he did that because I know that was always a dream of his. He probably didn't get his break in South Africa and he couldn't find a way into the Titans.
"He was quite young when he took a chance to come over here and saw opportunity to play international cricket and took it with both hands. You've got to do what you've got to do," he said. "Back home competition is quite tough and he just didn't get his chance when he was young. You never know, if he stuck it out for a few more years… but he will be proud of the fact that he is playing international cricket and I am proud he has achieved that."
Coming up against a former countryman who has crossed borders is not new to South Africa and it has ensured they see familiar faces almost everywhere they go. That may be one of the reasons de Villiers said the squad "could not have asked for a better place to prepare before the big tournament." Next week will be an opportunity for them to show whether the effort paid off.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent