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March 20, 2007
As you might expect from members of an old-boys network, Graeme Smith and Ryan Watson - opposing captains in St Kitts and former pupils of King Edward's school in Johannesburg - talked up the prospects of the other team. Scotland and South Africa now prepare for the grand finale of a group phase that until now has been as predictably one-sided as the world rankings suggest.
"Scotland are a better unit [than The Netherlands]," Smith said after South Africa's seven-wicket win. "They've got a few better bowling options and a few decent batters in the top six."
Watson fancied his former countrymen to put one over the Australians in their seismic tussle on Saturday. "I like the way South Africa are playing at the moment," he said, "but I worry they don't have a spinner in the side because these wickets are quite flat."
Today such weighty matters had to be put on hold, as Scotland took their turn to feel the wrath of the South African blades. There was no shame in the defeat, only weary resignation. Scotland leaked four-balls galore to succumb with more than half of their overs to spare. "We've improved a lot in terms of scorelines," Watson said after posting their highest World Cup total of 186 for 8, "but we're slightly disappointed with how we bowled up front. We bowled a lot better against Australia."
As has been the case throughout the past week's mismatches, there wasn't a lot that could be read into the result. For the fourth match running, the better side was professional to the core. Watson conceded that - regardless of what has been happening in Ireland's group - against such focused opponents, the Associate teams don't really have a prayer.
"If any of the Test nations brings their A-game to an Associate nation they are always going to do well," Watson said. "The problem with South Africa and Australia is they are never complacent - they are definitely always up for the game. I've played against Pakistan in the past, and whether it's complacency or whether they take their foot off the gas, I don't know. But they have the tendency to do that against smaller teams and that gives you half a chance."
"As a team you cannot afford to take teams for granted," Smith said. "You have to be ready for each day, because if you're slightly off the mark, any team can beat you. But now the first two games are out of the way, and that's a good thing because Australia is the game that everyone's been looking forward to. The World Cup is really starting for us now, and the first part of that is Saturday."
Scotland did provide moments of troubling resistance that Smith was both grateful to have been alerted to, and eager to rectify before the Australia clash. In particular, he took on board the flurry of runs that Scotland's tail had provided in the closing stages of their innings, as John Blain and Paul Hoffmann helped Dougie Brown to add 55 in five overs.
"At the death on this ground you're going to go for a few boundaries," Smith said, "so you've got to come up with a few different strategies. I'm glad that we bowled first, because we were able to learn that and see what it's like out there. It allows us to think about that now and plan for the Australia game. The winds were blowing strongly and that changed a bit of death-bowling tactics, but we bowled solidly and it was a good work-out."
It was Watson's Scots, however, who were taught the most from this match-up. "We learnt how to field today," Watson, who was run out while taking on AB de Villiers' exocet arm in the covers, said. "South Africa were simply magnificent and those are the standards we need if we are going to compete. Also our batting up front needs some work. These guys come at us and hit us over the top - we need to apply the same pressure on them."
Smith, who thrashed 91 from 65 balls, was relaxed and content with his form after a low-key build-up to the Australia match, and he intended to keep things that way. As the hype prepares to be cranked up a notch for Saturday's showdown, Smith revealed the squad's intentions were to take things easy.
"The guys have found a good balance since we've been in St Kitts," Smith said. "It's easy to find. Tomorrow I'm going to get a lesson on how to fish - a couple of our farm boys are taking me fishing tomorrow. It's definitely a full day off and we won't even plan any training sessions tomorrow night. We'll take the two days and make sure those two days before Australia are real training sessions. I just hope I don't get seasick."