Top-ranked South Africa desperate to shed ‘chokers’ tag
18 September, 2009
JOHANNESBURG: Champions Trophy hosts South Africa boast the greatest bragging rights in one-day cricket as world number one but the trophy cabinet is virtually bare.
Rated among the leading 50-over teams for many years, the Proteas have not captured International Cricket Council (ICC) silverware since winning the inaugural Champions Trophy in Bangladesh 11 years ago. All-rounder Jacques Kallis and bowler Makhaya Ntini remain from the team that defeated the West Indies by four wickets and a favourable draw should ensure they qualify for the semi-finals of the 2009 tournament at worst.
The Proteas are in Group B with England, New Zealand and Sri Lanka and the other section comprises defending champions Australia, India, Pakistan and the West Indies. South Africa captain Graeme Smith must believe the time has come for his experienced squad to justify their lofty status and use home advantage to go all the way and win the October 5 final.
Nothing less than victory in the sixth edition of the biennial mini-World Cup will dispel the belief that when the going gets tough, South African cricketers choke. “Every time we lose an important game the word ‘chokers’ is thrown around. During the last couple of years we have been on an upward curve and the team will improve and grow stronger,” insists Smith. But the batsman ranked eighth by the ICC accepts that while being rated the best national ODI team is extremely satisfying, it also brings additional pressure. “Every sportsman knows that staying at the top is a lot harder than getting there. Instead of aiming for Australia, as they have for the past decade and a half, the rest of the world will be looking to take us down.”
Fellow batsman AB de Villiers views the 15-match Champions Trophy at the Wanderers in Johannesburg and SuperSport Park in Centurion from September 22 as the perfect platform to demonstrate South Africa are true ODI kings. “It is true we have come short a few times, but there are many players eager to improve. We believe we are the best team in the world and now have the ideal opportunity to prove it. Our preparations have been the hardest since I began training with this squad. We run up to four times every day, attend net sessions, sweat in the gym and work on fitness in the pool. Although we have not played much cricket recently, training games helped, and I believe we are professional enough to gear ourselves mentally for this tournament,” said De Villiers.
Rustiness is a potential problem with South Africa last playing an ODI five months ago while the other seven contenders for a $2 million first prize have been busy lately. The choice of 32-year-old Ntini, who took just 12 wickets in his last 10 ODI outings at an average of 43.66, ahead of Morne Morkel was the biggest surprise of the 15-man squad.AFP