Magnificent opportunity for SA to gather vital wisdom ahead of WC

2014-10-15 00:00

CAPE TOWN — Simply playing several one-day internationals shortly in New Zealand and Australia, joint hosts of the 2015 World Cup, is a magnificent opportunity for the Proteas to gather vital wisdom just four months out from the major event.

That they will also play at a quartet of venues earmarked to stage certain of their CWC games makes the eight-match “reconnaissance mission” (three in New Zealand, then five on the other side of the Tasman) even more useful.

AB de Villiers’s side, who departed on Monday for their two-nation tour, start with two ODIs against the Black Caps at Mount Maunganui’s Bay Oval — a recent addition to the list of international venues, and not one that will be used at the World Cup.

But then the final fixture of the New Zealand leg of their trip is at Hamilton’s Seddon Park, which will also be the scene of South Africa’s World Cup Pool B opener against Zimbabwe on February 15.

So playing there will be educative for many of the Proteas’ ODI squad, even if senior figures like De Villiers, vice-captain Hashim Amla and fast bowling trump card Dale Steyn will have reasonably fresh memories because they took part in a March 2012 Test match at the venue when SA thumped the host nation by nine wickets.

When the tour moves on to Australia, coach Russell Domingo and company will particularly value the fact that three of the five venues to be used for the bilateral ODIs shortly are also on their CWC roster.

Once they have got past back-to-back Perth games on this safari, SA move on to matches at Canberra’s Manuka Oval, then the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Sydney Cricket Ground.

It is at the relatively unfashionable Canberra venue — not even the more street-wise members of the SA party have played a match of any consequence there yet — that the Proteas will play Ireland in the World Cup (March 3), while they are also down to tackle India in a likely big ‘un at the MCG on February 22, and West Indies at the SCG on February 27.

Of course Sydney and Mel­bourne also feature prominently from the quarter-finals onward at CWC 2015, making it especially important that various younger South African players are well versed in those illustrious grounds’ quirks and characteristics by then.

De Villiers made the point at the squad’s departure press conference in Johannesburg earlier this week that plenty of his charges will be entering virgin territory as far as international-level combat is concerned. The cavernous MCG, with its capacity of almost 100 000 and just as massive field area (173 m long and almost 150 m wide) is an intimidating place for first-time cricketers exposed to it, not least when there is swollen, passionate support for the Aussie cause.

I recall one of the SA players on the 2001/02 ODI portion of the broader tour there — it may have been Boeta Dippenaar, fresh off scoring an unbeaten 79 against New Zealand in the first final of the three-nation VB Series his side eventually won — telling me afterwards: “You don’t realise quite how big this place is until you’ve spent some time batting on it.”

It is just one reason why the current Australasian pilgrimage will be comfortingly educational for Proteas young guns like Quinton de Kock, David Miller and Rilee Rossouw, with looming bigger-picture issues in mind.

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