Zimbabwe could prove to be tricky opponents despite poor performance against Sri Lanka
It doesn’t matter which South African cricketer faces the media at an ICC World Cup. At some point, they’re going to be asked about choking. For Hashim Amla, who was the picture of serenity ahead of South Africa’s opening match of the ICC World Twenty20 2012, that moment came quite late in the press conference. As he does when the bowling’s a bit tricky, Amla presented the full face of a very broad bat.
“To be quite honest I think we've always been positive, going into a World Cup or tournament of this kind,” said Amla. “It’s a short tournament and our focus is on one game at a time. Let's see how tomorrow goes, we want to win big tournaments. The key for us is to win the big moments, the times when the game is a knife's edge.”
The marked difference in the manner in which Amla approached the choke word suggested that this team had turned that corner. In the past, South Africans would tiptoe on eggshells when asked about choking. While some of the players dismissed it out of hand, choosing to believe it never actually happened, others would react petulantly or defensively, almost getting into arguments with whoever asked about it.
The difference in approach stems from the way Gary Kirsten and Paddy Upton have dealt with the word. The team knows the choke word is going to follow them, whether it’s in media interactions or on the field, where some bright spark will use it to sledge them. With that in mind, the coaching staff have encouraged the players to admit that there were times in the past when they choked, and deal with it.
In a pre-tournament interaction, AB de Villiers went as far as bringing it up himself even when not directly asked about it. “I am going to be very honest with you, and I am going to put it up straight up front, we have choked in the past and we know about it,” said de Villiers, who was appointed limited-overs captain in July 2011.
“We have had some really bad experiences in the past. But I emphasise the word past. We have come with a new look in this team and we have worked hard with our new management team that has given us a lot of energy and new ideas. We will approach this tournament differently. We like to win in pressure situations, and we are going to do exactly that.”
It’s unlikely that South Africa will be put under too much pressure in its first game, with Zimbabwe looking distinctly ragged in the 82-run loss to Sri Lanka. But, as Mahela Jayawardena pointed out, a game against weaker opposition early in the tournament can be tricky, because it sometimes takes only one bad session to knock you out of the tournament.
The big challenge for South Africa is getting its combination just right. The final eleven is far from settled, and Kirsten has tried a few combinations without quite settling on one. This task was made more challenging by a virus that has laid different members of the team low at different stages. Mohammed Moosajee, South Africa’s manager, confirmed that the stomach bug did not rule out any of the players, but said that the team was waiting on a fitness test for Albie Morkel, who is struggling with lower-back spasms. Morkel’s availability will only be known on the morning of the match.
While South Africa hogs all the limelight, Zimbabwe knows they need to give a better account of itself. “Obviously it’s our last chance to progress in the tournament, and to do so we will have to put in a vastly improved performance than against Sri Lanka,” said Alan Butcher, Zimbabwe’s coach. “After all the hard work we put in, that was a disappointment. We know how good South Africa is and we need to pick ourselves up and put in a performance that we can be proud of.”