This will be the match of their lives, an opportunity to bury a bogey and the gateway to cricket’s biggest prize. South Africa, having spent the last two years perfecting their skills and toning themselves physically, have spent the last few days trying to gain control over that most intangible - and often, when the skills are comparable, decisive - factor in cricket: the mind.
Over the past two days, both Graeme Smith and Mickey Arthur, the captain and the coach, have emphasised the importance of staying calm. Arthur spelt out South Africa’s mantra for the semi-final in three words: “Confidence, calmness and patience.” It’s the closest you will get you to an admission that the mind has been South Africa’s big enemy when all was on the line.
On Monday Smith talked about a unique confidence building up within the team, and Arthur elaborated on it. Both spoke about the game against England as a template. “I thought we were the best we’ve ever been in terms of the mind in that game,” Arthur said, “and we’ve tried to keep the guys in a very calm state, because I think the stand-out thing for me was the guys were very calm going into the England game.
“With the calmness comes the confidence, and with the confidence comes the patience. That is how we’re approaching this game. The guys are very calm at the moment. I haven’t been involved in a team leading up to a game of this magnitude. They know about their games. We had a couple of meetings and discussed a couple of things. The guys are in really good shape. That’s the way you’ve got to go into a game like this.”
“It’s very easy to hype up a huge game like this so much that the players become over-anxious. We’re trying to play it down as much as we can and just keep the guys in a really good space, because the guys all know what they have to do. We’ve trained hard, they’re fit mentally, and technically they’re where they need to be. It’s a matter of just keeping them focused and keeping their feet on the ground. I don’t want the guys waking up in the middle of the night thinking ‘World Cup semi-final’”
Their build-up has been quiet. They spent the first three days after the England game in the nets, but unwinding. A bit of gym, a bit of a workout, but nothing to grind themselves into staleness. That’s been the challenge, Arthur said about the gaps between the matches. “That’s why so many teams have been up one day and down another,” he said. “You don’t really get any momentum because of the amount of time between games.”
There is some concern about the pitch, however, which now looks bald after the curator administered the final shave. All that remains is a hint of grass in the middle of the pitch, which still looks even and firm but dry. Arthur described the removal of the grass as unfortunate because, with their bowling resources, they would have preferred a pitch with bounce and movement. It has created a selection dilemma that will not be solved till they have a final look on the morning of the match. Which means South Africa will pick a 12 that will include, in addition of the XI that played the last match, Robin Peterson, the left-arm spinner who has appeared in only one match in this tournament. It also means Makhaya Ntini will miss out.
Smith, who suffered a knee injury while diving forward to catch Kevin Pietersen in the last match and was seen limping for a couple of days, has recovered, and South Africa will look to him to provide the early charge as he did in the previous match against Australia. It was a game that had shades of South Africa’s mammoth run chase at Wanderers last year, but the wheels came off after AB de Villers was sensationally run out.
Arthur said that match at St Kitts led to some soul-searching. “We discussed that game at length,” he said. “We have picked up some trends that Ponting used during the game. We really spent a lot of time doing our homework on it. Australia were able to put us under pressure for long periods of time in that game. We will be looking to reverse the trend.” As far as they are concerned, it’s three-all in the last six games.
On Wednesday, South Africa will have the opportunity to walk the talk. They know what the day could hold. It’s more than a ticket to the final. A win could mean liberation.
South Africa squad 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 AB de Villiers, 3 Jacques Kallis, 4 Herschelle Gibbs, 5 Ashwell Prince, 6 Mark Boucher (wk), 7 Justin Kemp, 8 Shaun Pollock, 9 Andrew Hall, 10 Andre Nel, 11 Charl Langeveldt, 12 Robin Peterson.
Source:Cricket WorldcupMore on:Arthur, captain, coach, Graeme Smith, smith, South Africa
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Post InfoThis entry was posted on Wednesday, April 25th, 2007 and is filed under General, Cricket.
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