Watch out for India at World Twenty20 - Arthur
Mickey Arthur, the South Africa coach, has said India is the team he will be keeping an eye on during the World Twenty20 because the defending champions have more game-breakers than most other teams. South Africa, he said, would be "very, very formidable" too because of their flexibility, unpredictability, batting depth and fielding.
He shied away from predicting who the semi-finalists would be in England, but said India, with explosive players like MS Dhoni, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma and Yusuf Pathan, would be the team to beat.
"I think any team has the ability to win this competition," Arthur told Cricinfo. "Every team has game-breakers and you only have to have your game-breaker coming off once to win you a game, the game is so short that one major performance wins you a game. But obviously, a team like India has more game-breakers than most teams, so they are definitely going to be one to keep an eye on. We are in the same group as India in the Super Eights, so that's going to be vital and we see them as a side that could do well in England."
His own team has a few strengths he plans to bank on. "Our strengths will be our flexibility, unpredictability, our ability to bat deep and to have so many bowling options at any given point of time during the tournament," he said. "The other major strong point for us is we are going to be a really good fielding unit. Our theme has always been seven bowling options and batting very deep."
In fact, many players in this South African squad can be called on to bat or bowl in any given situation. "Flexibility is going to be one of the keys for us and we are going to be very, very formidable."
So much so, Arthur claimed that he could not really pick any particular weak spot. "I don't want to sound arrogant, but I don't think there are too many weak spots. It's going to be how we actually gel as a team and how we perform our cricket disciplines straight up. It will be vital for us to be getting some momentum, and that we can only do on the cricket field. So, in a way, that will be our test."
One name on the South African team list, though, has raised a few eyebrows - that of Jacques Kallis, who did not figure in South Africa's 2007 World Twenty20 team - but Arthur defended his selection.
"Jacques gives us two clear options, in batting and bowling," he said. "So he is two players rolled into one. From two years ago, when he was not in our World Cup team, Jacques has taken time to work his Twenty20 game out. He has shown what he is capable of in the Twenty20 format. In fact, he was in our team even before the IPL (where Kallis came good for Bangalore after flopping in 2008). We had picked our team before that tournament."
The South African coach also credited the IPL for some of his team's confidence going into the world event. Twelve of his 15-member World Twenty20 squad played for various franchises in the IPL - which ended last weekend - and, apart from the cricket, Arthur said, they returned with information from players of other international teams who were involved in the Indian league. These inputs have been added to the South African tournament blueprint during a short strategy-cum-bonding camp that the team, which leaves for England on Friday, assembled for after the IPL.
"The IPL has been very good for our players," Arthur said. "They have got stuck in and taken responsibility for their franchises. We have discussed what the guys did well and what they haven't. We will use that information on completing our eventual final blueprint.
"We wanted them to find out whether anything was being done differently by other teams. By and large, though, there isn't much of a difference from what we have on our original blueprint. But it's always good to get some outside information about other strategies. "
On the flip side, Arthur said, there is a bit of a worry about the mental fatigue factor for those who have played in the IPL and will start all over again in England next week, a concern India coach Gary Kirsten had raised about his players. "I think Gary is right, there could be a little bit of it," Arthur said. "I think there might be a bit of mental fatigue, which is why we have just gone away and re-energised the guys. We haven't gone to major cricket disciplines; we have rather gone to talk, set goals and build our team. That's how we planned it out. "
Finally, Arthur said, what would matter in the World Twenty20 tournament is the speed at which the teams adapt to conditions in England next month. "If the weather is dry in England then spin will definitely play a role."
South Africa missed out on a place in the semi-finals of the inaugural World Twenty20 in 2007 after starting off brightly. There were poised for a semi-final spot after four victories in a row but suffered a massive slip-up against India in Durban, losing by 37 runs to bow out of the competition.
This time, South Africa open the tournament in Group D, along with New Zealand and Scotland. They play their first warm-up game against Pakistan at Trent Bridge on June 1 and take on Sri Lanka in another practice match at Lord's on June 3, before heading over to the Oval for their first match of the tournament against Scotland on June 7.
Ajay Shankar is a deputy editor at Cricinfo