Proteas must box clever

Pat Symcox (Supplied)
Pat Symcox (Supplied)
Splendidly adorned in their new blazers, the Proteas departed for Australasia amidst stirring fanfare from many well-wishers and, of course, our Minister of Sport.

Fikile Mbalula, as enthusiastically as ever, offered some encouragement more akin to a boxer about to enter the ring for a title fight.

The galvanising force from the home fans has a way of creating more pressure on all. A World Cup seems to bring out many different pressures no matter the sport. Perhaps it’s because they don't come around as often, with expectations intensified during the build-up. Somehow, playing a normal series just doesn't have the same kind of sting.

The World Cup is something special. The players feel it, as do the management. And us sitting back at home get so emotional over the Cup that the subject pervades our every thought. Cricket talk will certainly engulf boardrooms, golf courses and pubs over the next few weeks, and even those who aren't normally into cricket become experts.

The big question which has dominated the build-up so far has centered around a couple of fringe players selected in the 15-man squad. In the end, Russell Domingo and his fellow selectors settled with the combination of Farhaan Behardien and Wayne Parnell. The question I’d ask is: Are they good enough at crunch time if injuries occur?

Meanwhile, the number seven spot was hotly contested.

With the Big Bash League played in the same conditions as the World Cup, I wonder if there was ever a thought by the selectors to tempt Jacques Kallis out of international retirement. Could the selection committee not have convinced him, perhaps for the first time ever, to have played and batted in the position of the average all-rounder?

Kallis walking in to bat at number seven and bowling a handful of overs may well have proved a masterstroke. However, that is history now and those there need to deliver.

By all accounts, there are almost more members in the Proteas’ management team than in the actual playing squad, and none will be more important than those tasked with dealing with injuries.

Like all great teams in history, ‘pillar players’ are vital - keeping them on the field and in form means so much. Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers, for instance, just cannot miss a crunch game if the Proteas are to go all the way. In my book, those two players are irreplaceable and every opposing team knows that too.

In De Villiers, we certainly possess one of the game’s greatest ever talents. On his day, he can bat, bowl, keep wicket and field like the best of them.

As the captain, he will surely feel the weight of past-times more than anyone and my one concern is that he may try to do too much.

His captaincy will in all probability be just as important as the run that he scores. Clear thinking under pressure is never easy, especially when there is so much at stake.

It’s a lonely place when things don't work out, and in the past he has often faced the media and had to remain positive despite a terrible performance. This time around, I believe he will need to be brutally honest.

The core covenant that has existed in the Proteas setup since re-admission has always revolved around hard work. Perhaps it should have been focused on smart work?

Somehow, I have the feeling that the incumbent Proteas’ management team have started to recognize that aspect. It entails resting crucial players when necessary and preparing fringe players adequately in case they are needed at a moment’s notice.

Domingo has a real luxury in his management team in the form of ex-national coach Gary Kirsten. Having won the trophy with India in 2011, I believe my former teammate will add tremendous value, particularly as the tournament unfolds. Kirsten will understand the pressure on players having played and coached at a top-level. In my view, having him on board offers an X-factor which other teams aren’t able to boast.

When one arrives at the World Cup event there is an immediate sense of heightened anxiety. Suddenly it will dawn on each player that this is the stage that every cricketer wants to experience in their career. The media focus becomes more intense and the interaction between the teams seems to change.

Australia and New Zealand as cricketing destinations are steeped in the traditions and values of the game. Everything will be done ‘just right’. Practice facilities, hotels, transport arrangements, media liaison managers and medical facilities and gyms will not be found wanting in any way.

The opening ceremony will prove a glamourous affair, and thereafter it will be down to business. I believe that the warm-up games are never an indication of things to come and, as such, we must not read too much into them.

By now, internal strategies concerning how the Proteas approach the power-plays, who will be the boundary-riders on the big fields and who will take the first over with the new ball have been decided. It’s now about peaking at the right time under pressure.

Former South Africa international Pat Symcox played at the 1996 Cricket World Cup, and is a self-proclaimed cricket fanatic, struggling golfer and addicted writer.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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