South Africa hopes to better its record

Principal Correspondent
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COOLING DOWN: South African players relax after a practice session at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Thursday. — Photo: V. Ganesan
COOLING DOWN: South African players relax after a practice session at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Thursday. — Photo: V. Ganesan

Thrice semifinalist South Africa will look to better its World Cup record in a setting skipper Graeme Smith considers the ultimate for the sport's premier competition.

“For a cricketer, India is a dream country to play the World Cup in. Hopefully our cricket will match the occasion,” said Smith, after his team's practice session at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium here on Thursday.

The South Africans are fresh off a 3-2 ODI series win against India. But the fitness of Jacques Kallis, its highest ODI run-getter, and an inexperienced middle order are points of concern. Smith, however, allayed fears of another underachieving campaign.

“I don't see the need to expose Jacques early. But he's shaping up well and had a full session. There are several fresh faces in the team. I guess the best thing a captain can do is trust his guys and let their natural ability come through. We've come here with a lot of energy and preparation. But we need to make the most of our downtime and make sure we're ready on match days,” he said.

Indian conditions

South Africa appears to have done a fair bit of groundwork for what are generalised as ‘sub-continental' conditions. The pace department has always been in good hands, and now there's also a spread of tweakers to choose from.

“We have a lot of pace (options). But we also have three frontline spinners and a few part-timers who can turn their arm over. From the bowling point of view we have a lot of variety. All our bases are covered.

“I think how teams handle the Power Plays, particularly the last one, will be vital. But Power Plays have been around for a while now, and all the teams would have come up with their own strategy of handling them,” he said.

Smith, who became South Africa's youngest captain at 22 when he was handed the reins in 2003, said he was prepared to relinquish the ODI skipper's role after the World Cup.

“I am honoured to have been captain during such an important phase in South African cricket. I am best prepared to walk away after the tournament,” he said.

Zimbabwe ready

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe captain Elton Chigumbura, whose team will take on South Africa in a practice game at Chepauk on February 12, said his team had benefitted immensely from a two-week training stint in Dubai and from the inputs of batting coach Brian Lara.

“In Dubai, we tried to simulate sub-continental wickets. Our target is to play as well as we can,” said Alan Butcher, head coach.

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