Sport

CRICKET WORLD CUP

Proteas embrace World Cup challenge ahead of opening encounter against Sri Lanka

Proteas embrace World Cup challenge ahead of opening encounter against Sri Lanka
The Proteas's captain Temba Bavuma at a news conference prior to the South Africa squad's team training session at Arun Jaitley Stadium, on 6 October, 2023 in Delhi, India. (Photo: Pankaj Nangia/Gallo Images)

South Africa square up against Sri Lanka on Saturday in their first match of their Cricket World Cup campaign.

South Africa front up against Sri Lanka tomorrow in their opening Cricket World Cup clash at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in New Delhi.

India, England, Australia, Pakistan and New Zealand have been pipped by many as the five favourites to make a deep run in the tournament held in India.

Despite that, there is still an expectation to perform from South Africa — as there is at every World Cup. Proteas Skipper Temba Bavuma has said it’s near “impossible” to not get caught up in the pressure brought along with it.

“Most guys will tell you that they try to block it out. It’s impossible to block out all the noise, the expectation, the pressure will always be there,” Bavuma said at the pre-match press conference on Friday.

“It’s heightened when it comes to a World Cup event.

“I took a bit of comfort at the captains’ dinner when I heard the other captains speak about pressure and hearing and understanding that the emotions and the effect is the same for all of us.

“The biggest thing for myself as the captain is to accept that it is what it is.”

As with any Cricket World Cup, the infamous “chokers” question was raised. But Bavuma said while others shy away from speaking about South Africa’s history at World Cups, he brings it up in team meetings so players embrace the challenge of pressure situations.

“As a team, we have to accept that narrative that we have to get over — that’s always going to be there until we win silverware,” he said.

“We understand that. Our biggest way of dealing with that is being obsessed with ourselves and how we want to go about doing well on the field.”

Within the team, there is a belief that, despite being written off by many, South Africa’s chances of progressing to the knockout stage of the tournament are good.

“It’s a process of nine games, getting through the group stages and getting into the playoffs. There’s a belief that once we get into the playoffs, anything can happen and things can go in our favour,” Bavuma said

“The pressure and expectation is always going to be there for any Proteas cricket team and it’s just something we have to deal with.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Ten players to keep an eye out for at the World Cup in India

Cricket World Cup, Proteas

Sisanda Magala celebrates with teammates after the dismissal of Travis Head of Australia during the 3rd Betway One Day International match between South Africa and Australia at JB Marks Oval on 12 September 2023 in Potchefstroom, South Africa. The Proteas will rely on fast bowling to dismantle Sri Lanka’s batting lineup. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images)

Fast bowling

Despite the World Cup taking place in India, Bavuma said his side will stick to their traditional strengths, one of which is fast bowling.

This despite the squad being without one of the quickest bowlers in the world, Anrich Nortje, due to a back injury sustained in the build-up to the campaign.

“With the South African attack, as predictable as it may be, we’ll always lean toward planning around our fast bowlers,” Bavuma said at the pre-match press conference on Friday.

“That is our strength as a South African team. That’s no secret to anyone planning against us.”

However, the diminutive batter said the team is adaptable enough to select the pair of spinners — Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi — in tandem if the situation arises.

“Where we have guys like Keshav and Shamsi that does give us an opportunity, when the conditions allow, to play more than one spinner. We have guys who can step in and do that quite well,” he said.

“The biggest thing is the conditions and trying to put together a team and tactics that speaks to those conditions that we can exploit as best as we can.”

However, the captain gave no indication of what the bowling lineup will look like in the opening match.

Some struggles

The Proteas conceded 321 runs in their only warm-up match against New Zealand on Monday — their other warm-up match against Afghanistan was rained out.

“With bowling, I wouldn’t say it’s a concern. There’s areas we can improve on,” the skipper said.

“We always judge ourselves on the three different phases of the game. We haven’t had a lot of instances in all three phases — the powerplay, the middle and the death — where we have dominated as a bowling team.

“From that point of view, I do believe there’s room for growth and the guys are aware of that. I don’t think it’s all a skill thing… I think it’s more from a mental point of view.

“I do believe it’s a team effort. There’s days where the batting attack won’t fire and we’re going to need the bowlers to come through and vice versa.

“At the moment it’s the batters who are firing but there is room for us to improve on the bowling front.” DM

The match between South Africa and Sri Lanka starts at 10:30 on Saturday.

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