It’s finally here! After a lot of build-up and hype, the Champions Trophy will finally begin when South Africa plays India in the tournament opener in Cardiff. While the Proteas sweat over Dale Steyn’s fitness, India might be feeling slightly more confident after thrashing Australia by 243 runs just as a few days ago.
Much has been made about the flatter tracks in England this early in the year, but Cardiff has showed some promise for the quicks, with the track yielding lucrative rewards for the fast bowlers from both Australia and India, who played warm-up games here.
India’s Umesh Yadav picked up five wickets on Monday, while Australia’s Clint McKay and Mitchell Starc picked up seven wickets between them on Saturday in a warm-up match against the West Indies. If there is one thing South Africa has, it’s pace – even without Steyn, the bowling line up is still pretty impressive, albeit inexperienced.
Skipper AB de Villiers was mum on the team’s tactics ahead of their clash on Wednesday, though, and insisted that the side wouldn’t be reading into conditions and the warm-up result.
“I don’t think we were going to look into it too much. It’s a matter of really assessing it as we can. We all know in England the new ball is important, the first 10 overs to try and get wickets, which has happened here in the last few weeks or so,” De Villiers said.
“Looking at the stats as well, all of the short division games, the local games, they get a lot of wickets in the first 10, 20 overs. So we’ll be trying to target that, but we’re not going to complicate things. We’ll try to keep it simple, and just to seize the day tomorrow. We’ll try to assess as quickly as possible what lines and lengths are working for us, and we’ll definitely have an attacking mindset of picking up wickets early on.”
The two sides are familiar foes, having played each other 60 times before, and with South Africa having notched up some memorable batting partnerships. Current coach Gary Kirsten combined with Herschelle Gibbs for 235 runs in the 1999-00 season for the highest first wicket partnership against India for the Proteas. In more recent memory, Jacques Kallis, AB De Villiers, Wayne Parnell and Dale Steyn all chipped in for some memorable knocks against India. But the Proteas will be without the services of some of their big names, with both Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis absent from the side.
De Villiers is all too aware how tough the competition will be, and with margin for error being miniscule, the skipper is hoping to replicate some of the success of the South African team of 1998, who won the first edition of the tournament.
“It’s a very tough group and we know that we are up against really good opposition. All of the groups are really, really good teams. There is no room to hide in these kind of tournaments. We’ve experienced that before. The team that won it in 1998 was a very good ODI team and we’d obviously like to repeat that,” De Villiers.
“We don’t have the likes of Kallis or Smith here, but I feel there is a very good energy on the site. Like I’ve mentioned before in a few interviews, I try to look on the positive side of things and look at things like our energy. And the movement that we’ll have in the field, for instance, will be a big plus for us.”
The skipper hopes for the best for his side and there certainly is enough experience in the team to make up for the absence of the big names. De Villiers hopes the side can draw on the experience of some of the more veteran players to go all the way.
“There is enough experience, I believe, in a guy like Dale or Morne, myself, Hashim; we’ve all played a lot of cricket and, like I said, there is no room to hide in these tournaments. We’ll be using that kind of experience and our energy that we have on our team to get out there and win one game at a time and hopefully take the trophy back home.”
Rookie wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock has also linked up with the side, and although he is not part of the official squad – with only 15 players allowed in it – and while this has led many to question whether De Villiers is coping with the pressures of keeping, the skipper insists De Kock is simply there to learn and to serve as cover should anything happen. Whatever his role, it’s irrelevant at the moment, as he will need to get clearance from the ICC before he is allowed to join the squad as a replacement and can only do so if somebody is ruled out.
Far more important for the Proteas is how they approach the first match against India. They have much to think about – from bowling combinations, should Steyn fail his fitness test, to batting combinations and orders if their side finds itself in trouble early on. Keeping wickets in hand and going hard in the middle overs is a key part of the approach, and the pressure is on the top order to ensure the runs are piled onto the board. The warm-up matches might not have meant much to either side, but the result today will give everyone a much clearer picture of where both sides stand. DM
Photo: India’s Suresh Raina (C) hits a shot during their Twenty20 World Cup Super 8 cricket match against South Africa in Colombo October 2, 2012. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
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