Point to prove in SL - Duminy
Even though next year's World Cup will be played in conditions completely different to what South Africa will experience from next week, they head to Sri Lanka with a "point to prove", according to JP Duminy. This time last year, South Africa were thumped 4-1 in an ODI series on the island- their biggest defeat in a bilateral series away from home since 2004 in New Zealand- and the memory of that humbling still stings.
"It is going to be a tough ask for us but I am confident we can make some inroads. We've got a nice squad going there. Because we are starting with one-dayers, it's important for us to start well," Duminy said at South Africa's fitness camp in Pretoria last week.
The magnitude of the task is not lost on Duminy. South Africa have only won two of the 16 ODIs they have played in Sri Lanka, one in 1993 and the other 20 years later in 2013. They have the same number of Test victories, although from fewer fixtures, 10. Sri Lanka is also the last place where South Africa lost a Test series away from home, eight years ago.
"Last year we didn't have Test matches there so that's going to be an important aspect for us especially because we've lost the No.1 Test ranking. We have a bit of a point to prove in getting that back," Duminy said.
South Africa slipped a fraction below Australia when the ICC's annual rankings update was done in May, but the team can regain their crown with a 1-0 win over Sri Lanka. Given Sri Lanka's excellent form in 2014 and that South Africa's new-look team will be without the experience of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, Duminy expects people to underestimate South Africa's chances of doing that and he thinks it could be just what the they need to spring a surprise.
"It's a great thing if teams think that we are vulnerable. If they have that sort of mindset coming into the game, it gives us an opportunity to prove them wrong."
With South Africa anxious to show what they are capable of, it will come as good news to them that conditions in Sri Lanka have changed from the last time South Africa played Test cricket there. The absence of Muttiah Muralitharan has lessened the need for the raging turner and with Sri Lanka's pace battery promising much, the pitches may be less difficult for South Africa to negotiate.
That will be particularly good news for Duminy, who was one of the batsman who struggled against spin early in his career but is something he feels he has overcome.
"Having that spin issue is something I have put behind me. I have improved a lot," he said. "I can't pinpoint exactly what the technical issue was because it has been three or four years but I am confident facing spin now. I have got good game plans facing spinners. The preparation has been important for me. And I suppose the experience in the IPL has helped as well because I was able to play in sub-continental conditions and face different kinds of spinners."
Instead, Duminy will hope to put a positive spin on the art, with his bowling. Although South Africa have two specialist spinners in their squad in Imran Tahir and Dane Piedt, it is likely that only one will feature in the starting XI, with Duminy as the back-up. "My bowling has been going really well especially from a shorter format point of view, and it is about contributing a lot more, especially in Tests," he said.
Duminy may even find himself batting a place higher than his usal No.7, with Dean Elgar moving up to open and the possibility of an additional bowler being included.
"If the opportunity to bat higher presents itself, I am not going to say no but for now I am happy to be in the side and settled in the team wherever I bat.
"Batting at No.7 is a case of marshalling that lower order but having Vernon [Philander] at No.8 has been great for South African cricket. He is now ranked the No.1 all-rounder in the world and to have him at No.8 and Dale at No.9 - he's no mug with the bat, has been a great help. It's not that you have to marshal them too much, it is just a case of holding up your end and making sure you understand that it's a partnership."
Before Duminy can get to that, he will focus on the three ODIs, for which South Africa will have a full week to prepare for what will be a season focused on the fifty-over game. South Africa have scheduled 24 ODIs before next year's World Cup and will use them to fine-tune combinations and settle into what coach Russell Domingo has termed a "pattern of play," as their search for ICC silverware continues.
Duminy does not think there is that much work to be done before they are ready for the big event. "We are pretty settled in terms of the top order. It's just about getting the combinations right in the middle to lower order. The guys have a fair idea of where we want to go," he said. "The key is to understand what your end goal is but also identifying what your short goals are and make sure you meet them leading up to the end goal, which is winning the fifty-over World Cup. If we can meet short-term goals, we will give ourselves a good chance."
If South Africa can start with victory in the one place where it has largely eluded them, Duminy will be satisfied that at least one point has been proven along the way.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent