'We've handled pressure better than Australia' - Smith
Graeme Smith, South Africa's captain, has hit back at Australia's claims that his side are perennial chokers, suggesting that - of late - it is his team, the new World No. 1s, who have shown the big-game mentality that is needed to win a World Cup.
"In our last ten one-dayers we have been under pressure at times and we have got out of it superbly well," said Smith, whose side takes on the Australians at Warner Park in St Kitts on March 24. "We've been four- or five-down and still managed to get totals of close to 300. We've lost games and gone on to win series 3-1 against some good one-day teams. Our ability to get ourselves out of pressure is something we have done quite well.
"We've got a number of matchwinners in our side and that's always a huge asset," added Smith. "Australia has struggled of late before this tournament, in some finals and in New Zealand, but both teams come into this tournament with the same pressure on their shoulders, the same desire to perform well. Both teams are looking forward to March 24, hopefully it's going to be a cracking game."
Smith's assertion came as a response to the latest volley from Glenn McGrath, a character who can always be relied upon to stir the pot. "I've always felt they're a team that don't handle pressure as well as the Australian team," said McGrath. "They fear losing more than backing themselves to win, and the fact they are ranked No.1 now means a lot more pressure to hold that position."
"We were surprised nothing came from Glenn slightly earlier," countered Smith. "From our point of view it really means nothing. We've handled pressure better than Australia of late in the big games, so I guess it's just another drop in the ocean.
"We will take things as they come," added Smith. "We have played superb cricket over the last year-and-a-half in the one-day form of the game and I think our key focus has been getting all areas of our game right. We know if we perform we've got the players and the team and the passion to perform well over here. That's our focus at the moment. We haven't really taken too much notice of what's been going on around us. We will see when we get to Australia. We've got two games before that.
Smith was speaking during Australia's fielding stint in their opening match against Scotland, but he added that being in such close proximity to such arch-rivals was not an issue for the players. "We have shared hotels in Montego Bay and we were on the same plane," said Smith. "Relationships off the field are pretty good and mature. Players chat and say hello. But when it gets onto the field I'm pretty sure it will be competitive, the same way Australia and South Africa play all the time."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo