Chennai, March 5 (IANS) Like a shrewd millionaire, South African captain Graeme Smith preferred to hedge his bets while admitting that his team was wary of an England backlash here Sunday in a crucial Group B fixture of the Cricket World Cup.
Smith, who will be stepping down as the ODI skipper after the current World Cup, his third, said that England would be on the rebound following their shock reverse to Ireland in Bangalore Wednesday. So, the Proteas need to be wary of their rivals.
“England has been a very proud team and have had some good ups in the last two years. Their performance has been really credible over a long period of time. You got to respect them.
“You got to know that they have got the ability to play really well tomorrow. As a team we know that. So we have prepared for the best England team tomorrow.
“We expect them to bounce back. Obviously, the Ireland win would have hurt them a lot, but tomorrow will be a very different game,” said Smith during a pre-match media conference Saturday.
South Africa head Group B table with four points from two matches. England are struggling at the fourth spot with three points from as many outings.
Smith, with bountiful bowling options at hand and his frontline batsmen hitting form, was not prepared to even hint at, much less divulge, his playing XI for Sunday’s game.
“I would love to tell you, but can’t give too much away. We just assess every game as it is coming. Obviously, we will look at the England side and how we will like to take on them and select accordingly to suit the conditions,” he said when asked about probable team composition.
Dubbing the pitch a “normal” Chennai surface, Smith said the conditions and the 9.30 am start could lend themselves to a bit of swing and movement first up. But his team was prepared to deal with them.
“Conditions are a little bit different from Delhi and Mohali (where the South Africans played their previous two matches). It’s a little bit warmer here. But it looks like a normal Chennai wicket.
“We started our preparation here in Chennai before the tournament (with the warm-up game). So we have spent some time here,” he said.
Smith expressed satisfaction at rookie leg-spinner Imran Tahir’s development and admitted that the spinner’s presence provides him many more options.
“He (Tahir) gives us an attacking spin option which is exciting. From a captain’s point of view, it is nice to have all these variations and use a few more different things throughout the game.
“It certainly has added impetus to our attack especially in the middle periods. But overall I think we have got a side with more variations and lot more options available.
“With day games, I think you get slightly different conditions. With a 9.30 am start, you might count a little bit of swing up front like we had the day game in Mohali where we got a little bit of that stuff. We are pretty much prepared for what to expect in Chennai,” he pointed out.
Smith predicted an exciting game Sunday given the ODI track record between England and South Africa.
“I think England-South Africa games have always been big games and really competitive. All our series and games have been exciting to watch.
“So I expect tomorrow will be no different. We obviously expect England to perform really well. We are set up for a really exciting game,” he said.
On England having won seven of the last eight ODIs between the two teams, Smith said: “I think the reason is that they played better than us in those eight games. It is as simple as that.
“The key is for us is to just carry on playing as a unit. We are all performing our roles really well. We just got to come out tomorrow, be solid, be consistent and perform our roles. Hopefully, we will be one step ahead of England and that will be nice,” he said.
Regarding his final ODI tournament as South African captain, Smith refused to get sentimental but felt he had been the captain long enough and the decision to step down rested easy on his shoulders.
“No, it is not affecting us. Things have been very normal in the squad. Hopefully, it provides more motivation for the guys. For me, it is a personal decision and a decision I am at peace with.
“I have been on the job for over eight years, which is a lot longer than most of the captains last these days. I am proud of what I have done and I wanted to give myself the best chance to finish off with a World Cup (win),” Smith said.