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Ottis Gibson channels spirit of Anthony Joshua as South Africa look to lift themselves from the canvas

South Africa coach looks to lift dispirited players, but faces a challenge to find right balance for India showdown

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Faf du Plessis and Ottis Gibson at training on a humid day  •  AFP

Faf du Plessis and Ottis Gibson at training on a humid day  •  AFP

Ottis Gibson, South Africa's coach, says that his team will need to channel the spirit of Anthony Joshua, and dust themselves down following a damaging defeat against Bangladesh at The Oval on Sunday, a result that has left their World Cup campaign in serious jeopardy.
After losing the tournament opener, against England at The Oval on Thursday, South Africa's 21-run defeat against Bangladesh has left them with a record of no wins in two matches going into Wednesday's crunch clash with India in Southampton.
And with Lungi Ngidi set to miss both that match and potentially the West Indies game in Southampton on June 10 after picking up a hamstring strain, Gibson admitted that the squad would need some geeing-up in the midst of a mounting crisis of confidence.
"We were expecting to win today, we were trying to win today, but we got beaten by a better team, and we have to try and refocus," Gibson said in the aftermath of the match. "But India is going to be another tough game and there's no place to hide at the World Cup.
"There's no point in sulking around, we've got to get up and think about where we are going wrong, and put better spells of bowling together, and better batting together."
That may, however, be easier said than done - certainly where the bowling is concerned. As South Africa's captain Faf du Plessis admitted after the Bangladesh loss, the glut of injuries to their fastest bowlers has scuppered the plans that Gibson has spent the past two years working towards. The upshot is that South Africa are caught between praying for their injured quicks to return to fitness quickly, and trumpeting the claims of the back-up squad members who may have to hold the fort in the interim.
"We've got to play with the ones that are fit, first of all," said Gibson. "Dale Steyn is getting closer every day, he was on the field today bowling again, he is 85 percent, so we have to decide if 85 percent is good enough to play against India."
It's been a while, however, since Steyn has been a force in white-ball cricket. He has played just 21 ODIs since the 2015 World Cup, which ended with him being struck down the ground for six by Grant Elliott in a pulsating semi-final defeat, and just four matches since the start of 2019.
"His white-ball record overall is outstanding though," said Gibson. "Any team that sees a fit Dale Steyn on the scorecard still sees somebody that he can do some damage.
"The plan for the last two years was to build a bowling attack not just around Steyn but around KG [Rabada] as well, and Lungi. But we lost Lungi and there's a lot more weight on KG's shoulders to get wickets. He bowled well, but he didn't strike, and we need our strike bowlers to strike and our best batters to get runs. That's how the game is played."
If Steyn is not fit, then South Africa may have to improvise with their balance. The seam-bowling allrounder Dwaine Pretorius and the second spinner Tabraiz Shamsi among the men who may be called upon to play in the India match.
"I believe [they are good enough]" Gibson added. "Otherwise they wouldn't be at a World Cup.
"Obviously they are not the first choices in terms of names but we thought they were good enough to be a part of the 15, so they now have to believe that themselves and put their best cricket on the field.
"You keep telling them how good they are, you go back to our best experiences," he added. "We've won eight or nine of our last ten games with the guys in the dressing room, so you keep reminding them of that, and keep showing them what they've done in our recent history."
Gibson insisted though that, however he attempts to elicit a response from his players, he would not be resorting to ranting and raving in the dressing room, and pointed to the shock boxing upset in New York on Saturday night, where Joshua lost his world heavyweight crown to the unfancied Mexican Andy Ruiz Jr.
"There's no anger in me," Gibson said. "It's cricket we're playing, and in sport, there's nothing that says you are going to win because you might be the favourite.
"Look at Anthony Joshua last night, he was the favourite and he got put on the floor. I'm sure he's going to get up and go on to his next fight, and probably win. We must look at that, get ourselves up off the floor, dust ourselves off and put our best game out on the field.
"Losing early isn't always a bad thing when you are learning and improving," he added. "Because when you lose in the last week, you're going home. At the moment we've lost two games and were hurting, but we still have the opportunity to play better.
"If you are going to lose, it's better to lose now than in the first week of July."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket