Bringing back trophy might lift monkey from Proteas' backs

2010-04-28 00:00

IT’S time for everyone to have their say ahead of the ICC World Twenty20 tournament, which gets under way in the West Indies on Friday.

As usual, South African captain Graeme Smith (like me, no stranger to the cliché) has much to say regarding his players and their preparation going into the tournament. It’s been mentioned that players who’ve been involved in the IPL have their eye in and that they’re Twenty20 ready. We’ve also heard that players who’ve had a break over the IPL (Smith included, admittedly due to injury) are now relaxed, refocused and raring to go.

We’ve become accustomed to South Africa being unashamedly confident ahead of tournaments and, considering their abilities and world rankings, quite rightly so. With the trophy cabinet standing empty over the last few years, however, Smith’s recent comments have an air of apprehension about them and give a feeling that he’s hedging his bets.

Should South Africa return from the Caribbean minus the silverware, Smith already has the perfect script. The first possible excuse could be that his players who took part in the IPL are suffering from fatigue and exhaustion from too much Twenty20 cricket. The other possibility could be that, as some of the Proteas were not involved in the IPL, they were a bit rusty going into the tournament and short of match preparation. You can just hear it can’t you?

In contrast to South Africa, teams like New Zealand and Australia appear to have less to say and I think it’s wiser. When asked for his feelings regarding the ICC World Twenty20, New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori said that he feels spin will play a big role on the slow Caribbean pitches and that he and Nathan McCullum should have big roles to play.

He went on to say that he feels his side have good depth in their batting and that all things considered they have a good chance in the tournament.

The Australians are their usual confident selves, as we’ve come to expect, but admit they will need to adapt to the Caribbean conditions quickly. Michael Clarke put it succinctly when he said that the Australians are improving in the Twenty20 format and that they will hopefully use this tournament to show that.

As in past ICC tournaments South Africa deserve to be considered favourites. On paper they are a formidable unit with some of the best players in world cricket. They are blessed with a number of potential match-winners and they certainly have the ability to emerge as winners. Unfortunately for the Proteas they have the added pressure of having to prove to the world that they are not deserving of the choker label. With Twenty20 cricket a format where anything can happen and where results are unpredictable, it’s going to be tough for Graeme Smith and his men to do this in the West Indies.

Should the ICC World Twenty20 Cup elude the Proteas, especially if it’s at the last hurdle, the world’s media will have a field day.

I’m not sure a single trophy will be enough to banish the unfortunate tag of chokers from the Proteas forever, but bringing back a cup from the Caribbean could start making the monkey on South Africa’s back uncomfortable.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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