Johannesburg, Feb 11 (IANS) South Africa would like to bury the past and also the tag of “chokers” as they get ready for the 2011 World Cup as one of the top favourites.
The Proteas suffered heartbreaking losses in the previous World Cups — in the 1992, 1999 and 2007 semi-finals, inexplicable loss to the West Indies in the 1996 quarter-final and a forgettable 2003 when they bowed out in the first round at home.
Skipper Graeme Smith, who will quit captaincy after the World Cup, however, said the team is well prepared to deal with the pressure.
“We have had some good chats,” Smith said earlier this week. “We are as best prepared as we can be for this tournament. This team is in a good shape and we’re looking forward to get cracking. Exciting things can be expected from the team.”
“The nature of knockout tournament makes them exciting and that’s what makes it tough. As an international sportsman, pressure is a part of your life. You learn to deal with pressure.”
The fitness of star player Jacques Kallis, who is nursing a niggle on the right side, is a cause of concern despite the team management’s repeated assurance that the all-rounder will be fit in time for the mega event. In case Kallis fails to recover in time, his absence will leave a huge gap in the batting and bowling.
The Proteas have made a bold move by excluding experienced wicket-keeper Mark Boucher, seamer Charl Langeveldt and all-rounder Albie Morkel. The selectors have instead showed faith in newcomers — batsmen Colin Ingram, Faf du Plessis, all-rounder Wayne Parnell and left-arm seamer Lonwabo Tsotsobe — who now will have to justify their place in the squad.
“The young guys bring something fresh and new and we can work with that,” said Smith.
The squad now has just four players who have had the experience of playing in the World Cup — Smith, Kallis, AB de Villiers and left-arm spinner Robin Peterson.
South Africa’s batting has the ability to take on any attack with the experience of Smith and Kallis. Hashim Amla showed his penchant to score on the sub-continent’s pitches by plundering the Indian attack during the tour last year and, with de Villiers and JP Duminy, makes for an enviable batting line-up.
The Proteas have one of the most potent pace attack, led by fiery Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. They have some good spinning options with off-spinner Johan Botha leading the pack and the uncapped, Pakistan-born leggie Imran Tahir. Duminy and Faf du Plessis can also couple up as useful part-timers.
Their last month’s 3-2 ODI win over co-hosts India, who are clubbed with them in the same group in World Cup, could not have come at a better time and Smith and his men will take the confidence into the mega event. England, West Indies, Bangladesh, Ireland and Netherlands are the other teams in the group.
South Africa play their first World Cup game against West Indies Feb 24.
Squad: Graeme Smith (capt), Hashim Amla, Johan Botha, AB de Villiers (wk), JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Colin Ingram, Jacques Kallis, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Morne van Wyk (wk)
Fixtures: Feb 24 vs West Indies (New Delhi), March 3 vs the Netherlands (Mohali), March 6 vs England (Chennai), March 12 vs India (Nagpur), March 15 vs Ireland (Kolkata), March 19 vs Bangaldesh (Dhaka).