Looking splendid in their new blazers, the Proteas departed amidst a stirring fanfare from many well-wishes and of course from our own Minister of Sport, who enthusiastically as ever, gave them some encouragement more akin to a boxer about to enter the ring for a title fight.
The World Cup seems to bring out many different pressures no matter what sport it is. The galvanising of the fans back at home has a way of creating more pressure on all. Perhaps its because they don’t come around as often and expectations are heightened during the build-up. Somehow playing a normal series just doesn’t have that same kind of sting in it. The World Cup is something special and players feel it, the management feel it and we sitting back at home get so emotional over it that it pervades our every thought as it unfolds. Cricket will engulf the boardrooms, golf courses and pubs over the next few weeks and even those who aren’t normally “into” cricket become experts.
The big question so far in the build-up has been around one or two fringe players. Are they good enough at crunch time if we have injuries? The number seven spot was hotly contested but in the end it went to the combination of Berhardien and Parnell. I wonder if there was ever a thought by the selectors as they surely watched the BBL being played in the same conditions as the World Cup, that somehow Jacques Kallis walking into bat at number seven and also bowling a handful of overs gives a very solid ring to it if one is chasing down a score in the Final to win the trophy. Could they not have convinced him perhaps for the first time ever he could have played and batted in the spot of the average all-rounder. Well that is history now and those there need to deliver.
From all accounts there are almost more in the 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. The likes of Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers just cannot miss a crunch game if they are to go all the way. In my book they are irreplaceable and every opposing team knows that.
When one arrives at the World Cup event there is an immediate sense of heightened anxiety. Suddenly it will dawn on each one that this is the stage that every player wants to at least experience in his career. The media focus become more intense and the inter-action 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”. Practise facilities, hotels, transport arrangements, media liaison managers and medical facilities and gyms will not be found wanting in any way. In other words, there will be no reason to feel uncomfortable as preparation goes. Even the food will have been considered carefully.
Russell Domingo will have a real luxury in his management team in the form of former coach Gary Kirsten. Having been a winning coach with India, he will add tremendous value as the tournament unfolds. He will understand the pressures of the time both from having played and as a coach. Having him on board for that alone is an X-factor that others don’t have.
In AB de Villiers we have surely one of the games greatest talents ever. A guy who on his day can bat, bowl, keep wicket and field like the best. As the captain, he will feel the weight of past-times more than anyone. A concern is that he may try to do too much. His captaincy will in all probability be just as important as the runs he makes. Clear-thinking under pressure is never easy especially when there is so much at stake. It is a lonely place when things don’t work out and often he has faced the media and had to keep the positivity going despite a terrible performance. That time is also over. He will need to be brutally honest this time around.
The core-covenant that has existed in the Proteas since re-admission has always centered around hard work. Perhaps it should have been more focused on smart-work. Somehow I have the feeling that they have started to recognise that aspect. It entails resting players when needed and peaking as many just in case they are needed at a moments notice.
The opening ceremony will be a glamorous affair and thereafter it will be down to business. The warm-up games are never an indication of things to come and we must not read too much into them. They are exactly what they are. By now the internal strategies concerning how they approach the Power-plays and who will be the boundary-riders on the big fields, who will take the first over with the new ball have been decided. There have been enough games prior to get that ironed out.
It is now a question of peaking at the right time under the pressure of the time. What a mouth-watering thought…