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Cricket: South Africa’s Champions Trophy campaign begins here

By Antoinette Muller 3 June 2013

The Champions Trophy has no room for error – it’s short, sharp and every game is a must-win for every side. It makes for a tasty mix of feisty cricket, and South Africa has just one more warm-up game before things get serious. AB de Villiers thinks the Proteas can walk away with silverware, but first the side has to get the engine running. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

It’s not quite a World Cup, but there certainly is a thick air of excitement surrounding the ICC Champions Trophy which starts in Cardiff on Thursday. Such a massive buzz around a tournament can be distracting, and coupled with South Africa’s history with knock-out tournaments, there should be plenty of tension in the air.

De Villiers spoke candidly on Sunday ahead of the Proteas’ warm-up match against Pakistan at The Oval on Monday, and the skipper is looking forward to what lies ahead.

He suggested that South Africa would most likely play one of its strongest games as they searched for one more confidence boost before the tournament started. Pakistan are familiar foes: the two sides recently played in a full-tour and will also face each other in the competition’s group stages, something the skipper sees as an advantage.

“It’s ideal to play against a team that is one of the best in the world right now, so it’s a perfect preparation for us. I’ve got a good, balanced team. We’ll be facing good seam bowling, good spin bowling. We’ll be bowling to some of the best batters in the world.  So it’s really the perfect opposition to play against leading up to a tournament like this,” De Villiers said.

De Villiers isn’t mincing his words when it comes to South Africa’s prospects, either. While he insists that South Africa will be focusing on the lead-up to the first match against India, he also believes that his charges can go all the way and win the tournament. The skipper believes that walking away with silverware is an important step forward for the team.

“It’s [winning the tournament] very important. Every game we play is important to us. We represent a very proud cricketing nation, and we’d like to make them proud in this tournament. But all our focus will be with the warm‑up game now and leading up to the first game against India,” De Villiers said.

“For now, we wouldn’t like to look too far ahead, even though we would like to win the tournament, and I have full confidence that we’re going to do so, but we’ve got to take it one step at a time. Everyone will probably be touching on that. All the captains will be saying we’re going to be taking it one step at a time. But what’s important right now is our warm‑up game. In fact, our nets today will be important. It is our first netting in England and we’ll take it from there.”

South Africa boasts an impressive top-six, which will stand them in good stead in the tournament. It’s crucial to keep wickets in hand in one-day cricket, and with a line-up including some astute batting talent, they can be pretty confident when it comes to getting runs on the board. Their bowling is equally impressive and if there could be one weak spot, it’s the spin department.

Robin Peterson has been reasonably impressive since returning to the one-day side, picking up 28 wickets in 21 matches at an average of 30.39. Many will argue that he’s not quite a frontline option. His skipper believes the side has more than enough options when it comes to players who can turn their arm over, however.

“I believe Robin is a very good spin bowler. He’s been around a long time. He’s actually surprised a lot of people in the last few years with the amount of wickets he’s taken. He’s a wicket-taker for us, so that always makes him a dangerous bowler.”

JP Duminy’s return to fitness also means that South Africa has a part-time option in him, while Aaron Phangiso remains an option should anything happen to first-choice Peterson. De Villiers insists that it’s not an area of weakness, but simply a matter of using the combinations correctly.

That’s something De Villiers will have to think carefully about, and his captaincy will certainly be under the microscope. He’s struggled with keeping the over rates in check and while he’s been in stupendous form with the bat since taking over, marshalling the troops is something De Villiers hasn’t quite grasped yet.

With the bat, De Villiers averages 92.63 in 20 matches as captain. He’s scored six 50s and three 100s in that time, and the 29-year old says batting under pressure is something he relishes – admitting that his captaincy does need a bit of fine-tuning.

“I enjoy the challenge, but I haven’t changed things much. I really just try to keep it simple, especially with my batting. When it comes to performance of the team and my own performance… I work hard at my game, and I just play the situation that I’m confronted with in each game.

“The one area I might think about a bit is my captaincy, and that’s kept me quite busy in the last few games that I’ve captained, so it’s very exciting and I’m looking forward to this tournament and making a few good calls for the team,” De Villiers said. DM

Photo: South Africa’s wicket keeper AB de Villiers (R) celebrates with his teammates after making a catch to dismiss Pakistan’s captain Misbah-ul-Haq during their final one-day international (ODI) cricket match in Benoni March 24, 2013. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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