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Smith - 'This is something we have worked for'

Protea skipper feels the number one ranking is not a burden and his team has all bases covered before the tournament

Smith - 'This is something we have worked for' - Cricket News
South African cricket team captain Graeme Smith during practice before the Champions Trophy.
Graeme Smith on Monday dismissed suggestions that the No. 1 ranking would put additional pressure on the Proteas going into their opening match at the ICC Champions Trophy tournament against Sri Lanka at Centurion on Tuesday.

Smith said it was a reflection of the outstanding cricket the team had played over a period of time. "We don't feel pressure at all," he commented. "These are things we have worked for. When we started our plan, this was what we set out to achieve and being No. 1 in both formats of the game is a massive honour. We are the only team bar Australia that has managed to achieve that. For us to have those trophies in the cabinet is a credit to the way we play the game."

The Proteas' captain said the key to winning the opening match would be to concentrate on their own brand which had been so successful rather than to worry too much about the opposition's way of playing.

"The crucial thing is to play our game and not to be led into playing the way other teams play their games. We must play our brand of cricket as we have done over the recent period of time and hopefully play our game better than Sri Lanka play their game tomorrow.

"We have got a team with a lot variety - we have got a left-armer, we have got pace, we have all-rounders and we have spin. It is nice as captain to have so many options and to have all our bases covered."

Smith acknowledged the world-class quality of the Sri Lankan spin attack headed by world leader Muttiah Muralidaran and Ajantha Mendis but pointed out that the Proteas had built up a formidable record with their ability to play spin bowling confidently and successfully.

"Murali has troubled a lot of players in the past. What is going to be interesting is to see how they fit both their front-line spinners into their combination on the South African surfaces. At the end of the day our record speaks for itself of how we have played spinners around the world for the last period of time. That is the challenge posed for us by Sri Lanka. Each team has its world-class performers and that is what makes the challenge so exciting.

"We are excited, we have prepared well, we are the best prepared we can be going into this tournament. Hopefully tomorrow we can put it all into play in the middle. That is our challenge."

The Proteas can, of course, answer fire with fire. Johan Botha and Roelof van der Merwe have become major factors in the South African attack and this is likely to be even more so on a pitch that has a definite sub-continent look about it.

"Over the last 18 months or so Johan has become one of the best bowlers in limited overs cricket," added Smith. "His stats and records speak for that. He has become an integral part of our attack and it is going to be no different against Sri Lanka tomorrow. It is a ground that he knows well - he has played a lot of domestic and international cricket here - and he and Roelof form a good combination. They are both going to play an important part."

Smith confirmed that Hashim Amla would take the place of the injured Herschelle Gibbs. "Hashim has had a fair amount of success in the few opportunities he has had in the shorter format of the game," said Smith.

"We all know the success he has had in Test cricket and he is growing all the time in this format. Herschelle's injury has given him another chance, so let's hope he can come and continue where he left off in Australia (he averaged just under 50 with a strike rate of 76 and a highest score of 97)."

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