Optimism and focus are the key components of Ottis Gibson and Faf du Plessis’ strategy to win World Cup.
After 27 years and seven tournaments of tilting at a windmill called the Cricket World Cup, the Proteas have taken a simpler, if low-key, route in preparation to hopefully get the gorilla off their backs at the imminent edition of the global showpiece in England.
Having met on May 12 in Cape Town, the squad used a trek up Table Mountain as part of their preparations prior to today’s departure for the tournament, which begins with South Africa taking on hosts England on May 30.
Speaking at the team’s departure press conference yesterday, coach Ottis Gibson said the point of the hike was to draw a symbolic parallel for the players regarding the challenge facing them. Having failed to conquer the relative Mount Everest of winning the World Cup, the idea was to make it less daunting.
“The reason we went up Table Mountain is because it’s familiar to us,” began Gibson. “At the end of the day, whether you walk up the mountain or go to the World Cup, for us, it’s still cricket, and that’s what I’ve been preaching for the two years since I got here.
“We are going to play cricket. It’s packaged as a World Cup, but we’re going to play cricket, and we’re going to play there as South Africa. If we lose sight of the fact that we are playing cricket, that’s where we are going to stumble.”
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Whatever guise the tournament comes in, the Proteas still have the discomfiture of a key component of their stated strategy to winning the World Cup – blasting teams out with their bowling attack – not being cleared for the opening game against the Poms.
While injury concerns Kagiso Rabada, Tabraiz Shamsi (both lower back), JP Duminy (shoulder) and Lungi Ngidi (side strain) have been declared fully fit, veteran fast bowler Dale Steyn’s shoulder is still niggling.
Team manager Dr Mohammed Moosajee explained: “We are reassured by the experts’ opinions, and they’ve cleared Dale for the tournament. We are going to take it week by week; it’s a long tournament.”
Gibson cut an even more laid-back figure than Moosajee with regard to Steyn not being 100% fit.
“He’s an important part of our strategy, and our strategy isn’t just for the first week, it’s for the whole six weeks. If he is not able to play a full part in the first week and is able to play a part in the latter stages of the tournament, that’s something we are prepared to accept.”
By the sounds of it, Gibson – who this week said the word ‘choking’ had been outlawed in his team in the build-up to the tournament – and his captain, Faf du Plessis, have worked overtime to allay the mental fears among their team.
“I keep saying to them that no one person has ever won a World Cup [in the team], so whether we win or lose won’t fall on one person’s shoulders to take us where we want to get to – it will be a squad effort.”
Looking ahead to the opening game against a powerful England line-up, one of the two outright favourites to win the tournament with India, Du Plessis sought to bring perspective to the match.
“South Africa winning that first game will mean the media will start speaking about South Africa as a real threat in the World Cup,” he said. “If we lose, it’s a six- or seven-week tournament...”
Gibson came perilously close to trolling his former employers, who are the number one ranked team in the world: “P-Dawg [the Proteas’ performance analyst, Prasanna Agoram] gave me the stat that the number one team in the world for the past five World Cups has only won once – whether that’s right or not, that sounds good to me...”
Du Plessis also addressed the other elephant in the room: the form, or lack thereof, of veteran opening batsman Hashim Amla: “Hash hasn’t scored the amount of runs he would have liked, but he’s also an experienced campaigner and that’s why he withdrew himself from the Cricket SA T20 competition – because it wasn’t the preparation he wanted.
“He’s been working extremely hard with [batting coach] Dale Benkenstein, hitting a lot of balls to get himself into the frame of mind he needs to get himself in. With regard to team selection, that’s a call we will make when we get there. We’ve got two warm-up games. If he’s in form, he will be picked. If somebody else is, they will.”
The final word was Gibson’s: “My feeling is that cricket represents the country more so than most other sports, so now is the time for cricket to win the World Cup. Hopefully, on the 14th of July, we’ll be playing in that game at Lord’s and everybody in the country will be smiling.”