Duminy vows to not take Zimbabwe lightly
If the knowledge that the No.1 ranked Test team are roaming through their backyard like a bear on the loose was not enough to intimidate Zimbabwe, then South Africa's warning that they will not allow their neighbours any breathing room will. On arrival Hashim Amla promised South Africa will "will try and play the game as intensely as we play every Test", and after the squad's first full training session on Thursday, JP Duminy seconded that strongly.
"It's another Test match and we will prepare the same way we do for any Test match," Duminy said. "There's probably more emphasis for this Test match because the pressure will be on us to put in a big performance. And I know we are up for the challenge. It's a representative game for your country and you have to take it seriously."
It's difficult to believe South Africa, fresh off the back of a series win in Sri Lanka, regard a one-off match against a team that has not played a Test in a year as a challenge but they do, albeit of a different sort. It's a challenge against themselves; a challenge to not be complacent and a challenge of circumstance rather than a challenge in contest.
South Africa know the real danger is not so much whether Zimbabwe can put up a fight but underestimating their ability to do that. That, along with the frustrations of experiencing life from the have-nots' perspective, is what South Africa see as the main speed-bumps they need to sail over in the next week. "The first thing we spoke about in our team meeting yesterday was to be wary of those kinds of things and not to take anything for granted," Duminy said.
"We are going to face challenges being here. Things don't go your way in the hotel or whatever - lifts don't work, as happened yesterday, but those are just challenges you have to face. To stay on top as the No. 1 ranked team you have to make sure you deal with those situations and respect every team that you play against. We respect Zimbabwe and we are by no means are we taking this game lightly. It's an international game and once you take your foot off the gas, Mother Cricket finds you out quickly."
Clinical execution has been South Africa's mantra since they first curled their fingers around the mace two years ago. Their home summer which followed their ascendance had them deal with an underfiring New Zealand and Pakistan with surgical efficiency. South Africa won all five matches and ensured none of them latest five days.
Although their recent blockathon at the SSC led to accusations they were veering towards reluctance to move matches forward, that approach was taken with the series outcome and the ranking in mind, and with both those secured, the expectation remains that this Test will not go the distance. A brief glance at one of the two pitches under consideration for the game will only raise those suspicions. Pitch No. 4 continues to sport a healthy green tinge and word from insiders is that Zimbabwe's coach Stephen Mangongo was in favour of a spicy track, even against the best attack going around.
He is not entirely alone in that bravado. At least one of his chargers shares his confidence and was not afraid to show it. When India tumbled to 8 for 4 on a lively surface in Manchester, a member Zimbabwe's 25-man training squad watched wide-eyed from the Harare Sports Club's Centurion pub. "What's going on here?" he asked, before mischievously adding, "Maybe that's what South Africa will be on Saturday. But they'll be five down."
As for the rest, they seem to concur that the first morning will provide something for the quicks but they are worried about what that might mean if they bat first.
At least two Zimbabwean batsmen have asked whether Dale Steyn will play in the Test or if he will be rested. Their questions have both excitement and fear as companions as they contemplate coming up against the man hailed as the best around.
It will come as unwelcome news to them that indications are Steyn is unlikely to sit out. "In Test cricket, you want to keep as close as possible to the same team," Duminy said. "You want to build momentum, especially with not playing as many Test matches this season as we normally would."
Other signs from South Africa's practice was that the same XI that did duty across both Tests in Sri Lanka will do so in Harare. The reserves, Stiaan van Zyl, Dane Piedt, Kyle Abbott and Wayne Parnell, did what reserves do. They batted last, they bowled after the first-choice players, and unless there is an injury or major change in thinking, they will probably carry the drinks.
The opportunity to blood new talent is being benched in favour of consistency in a lean schedule, so Zimbabwe will know they will be up against it for as long as South Africa do not get too comfortable with the favourites tag. So far, they are being careful to handle their status with care and dismissed talks of a walkover as being nothing more than a fantasy they will not entertain.
"We are not trying to win this game in three days. If we can win on the last session of the last day it will be a job well done," Duminy said. Funnily enough, Zimbabwe will think exactly the same thing.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent