The same man who led the South African cricket team around Switzerland for four days prior to their arrival in England has linked up with the side again ahead of the Test at Lord’s, but other than that, it’s all systems go as usual for the Proteas. By ANT SIMS.
South Africa might insist that they’re not preparing any differently for the third and final Test against England at Lord’s, but they did something a little bit extra on Tuesday. Explorer Mike Horn – the same man who led them on their adventures through Switzerland before the start of the tour – joined the team preparations and he will be with the squad for the next three days.
While South Africa’s performance at Headingley wasn’t quite as convincing as the whipping they handed England at The Oval, Horn linking up with the squad is by no means unplanned or an attempt to recreate the magic from the first Test.
“We always planned on getting him here after our excursion in Switzerland,” coach Gary Kirsten said. “He is an inspiration for us, he played a big role in our preparations before the tour and he will no doubt add value to our current team environment.”
Horn is no replacement for any sort of technical cricket know-how, however, and the explorer says he is simply with the side to help them on a mental level, to get over a stumbling block they’ve so often failed to conquer in crunch situations.
“I can’t come here and teach the players how to bat or to bowl,” said Horn. “I am here to bring something away from the game. They have proven that they are a better team than before. There is a good ambience in the camp and the players are looking forward to performing better as a team. I’m not going to say much, I think my presence will say a lot.”
The mental challenge will be a tough test for South Africa, but when it comes to preparing for play, Jacques Kallis says nothing has changed.
“Our focus has been preparing for this Test as if it’s just any other Test and we want to put in a big performance. To win a Test series in England is a big deal, it doesn’t happen often and not many teams have come here and won,” said Kallis.
Kallis is being coy. Winning in England does happen – if you’re South Africa. The Proteas win here in 2008 was monumental and they are now on the verge of replicating that feat. There are a few members of the side who tasted that victory. Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Kallis, AB de Villiers, Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn are all experienced campaigners who have been through the many highs and lows the South African team has experienced in the last few years and Kallis believes that the side is reaching a maturity it hasn’t had before.
“I think our current side is shaping up to be different to any other South African side we’ve played in. the guys are maturing and we’re learning a lot from the way we’re doing things,” said the all-rounder.
Kallis credits Kirsten for his influence on the side and says the coach has helped the team come together as a unit, helping them morph into the superpower they are slowly becoming.
“We want to play good, aggressive and positive cricket – that’s what we’re working towards as a team. Kirsten has been a catalyst for how the team has changed and he’s very process driven, he’s helped us focus on what we can do better as a team,” Kallis said. “I think every player in the team knows what their role is and that makes a huge difference to how you approach the game.”
South Africa haven’t lost an away series since Sri Lanka in 2006 and that record will continue to stand, no matter what the result at Lord’s. However, England have been far below their touted best, especially in the first Test where they managed to take just two wickets in the entire match. They came back much stronger in the second Test and English seamer Tim Bresnan reckons there’s no need for panic stations just yet.
“I do think our bowling has been slightly below par this series, but I also think that we bowled alright at the Oval, there wasn’t much in the pitch. We did much better at Headingley and we bowled well without a great deal of luck. I don’t think we need to go another plan just yet,” Bresnan said.
With Kevin Pietersen having been dropped, Jonny Bairstow has been recalled to replace him and Bresnan has backed the Yorkshireman to do well, despite his struggles against the West Indies earlier in the summer where the youngster managed just 38 runs in three Tests.
“It’s a chance for Bairstow to show the kind of talent he is and personally I believe he can get runs at this level, he just needs a bit confidence. When I’ve seen him play in county cricket, he just smashes it into the stands and if that’s his natural game, then that’s what he needs to do,” said Bresnan.
Pietersen has had a tremendous series, having scored more runs than any other English player on the tour and has the highest average of all the players in the side. England will have to make do without him, though, and Bresnan reckons the hosts will cope just find without their talisman.
“I think we have just as much chance of winning this Test as we would have had if Kevin Pietersen was playing. We have a squad so deep in talent that it doesn’t matter who plays, if we play our best cricket on any given day, we can beat anyone,” Bresnan said. DM
Photo: South Africa's captain Graeme Smith (3rd R) passes a rugby ball as his teammates look on during a training session before Thursday's third cricket test match against England at Lord's cricket ground in London August 14, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown