Proteas must 'think on feet'

2010-10-22 11:03
Corrie van Zyl (File)
Q&A conducted by SPort24 chief writer, Rob Houwing

There were reports recently that some of our leading cricketers had reservations about playing Pakistan amidst their current climate of controversy. Is everybody genuinely “on board” for the United Arab Emirates trip?
Yes, absolutely, I’m not aware of an issue in the team at this stage regarding the Pakistan series. Everyone is very focussed and understands this tour is an important part of our whole process for the season leading up to the World Cup. We’re looking forward as much as anything to testing our skills over in the (Emirates). The only real concern is the injury situation regarding Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn. Initially we were hoping not to use them in the (two-match) T20 phase up front but then the Champions League came along where they got injured, so we had to rethink a bit. Now those matches have become about readying them for what’s ahead, and we hope they’re ready as soon as possible.

Has preparation been difficult for such an unusual venture?
Yes, especially as far as the Test series is concerned. There’s not a lot of information or (history) to go on about Abu Dhabi or Dubai as five-day venues! We’ve done our homework as best we could, but what will that homework actually tell us? So we will require some thinking on the feet, as well as probe how our opponents play in conditions on the Subcontinent that are at least similar to what will be on offer in the Emirates.

Have you been able to benefit from any form of reconnaissance?
Not really. Obviously our logistics manager Goolam Raja has been over to check the lie of the land but I don’t believe any of our guys have even played in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. I was part of the tour that went to Sharjah (the Coca-Cola Cup triangular, also featuring Pakistan and India) in 2000, but we don’t even get to play there. At least there is a lot of information on one-day internationals at the two venues we’ll play at – you can read a lot from that, so we’ve gathered quite a lot of TV footage.

I take it you anticipate generally “Subcontinental conditions”?
That’s what we hope for, really. It would be very useful in terms of World Cup acclimatisation. I’m sure the wickets will be batting-friendly, put it that way. We are certainly curious about what to expect, and looking forward both to a new (adventure) in the UAE, and to be playing Pakistan.

Amidst the hullabaloo around Pakistani cricket, will you be stressing strongly that the Proteas take care of their own game?
Yes, the focus will be entirely on what we need to do, to beat Pakistan in those conditions, and to maximise our own strengths. We will definitely make sure the (distractions surrounding Pakistan) will not be part of our thinking.

No Amir, no Asif as pace spearheads … I suppose you always anticipated their threat now to attack the Proteas with spin?
They’ve still got some really good seam bowlers, when you consider a name like Umar Gul, while Shoaib Akhtar still offers true pace for their one-day squad. And also I’ve just come back from Sri Lanka where our A-side played against Pakistan A. Make no mistake, there are still some good fast bowlers in their A-side, even if they lack experience at present. They have a wealth of fast-bowling talent historically. But your point about them planning to attack us with spin is probably valid; they will think that’s one way of beating us – that’s our challenge to deal with. They bowled several spinners at us when they beat us (at St Lucia) during the ICC World Twenty20 and that fact will have given them (heart).

Turmoil or no turmoil in their camp, you must be very aware that Pakistan can knock over anyone on a good day?
That’s right. Especially in one-off games at world events; they’re very good at that. There are five ODIs here and it will be tough, even if we aren’t talking a knockout situation. We’ve been good in this kind of (bilateral series) over the years; the question is how well and quickly we adjust to the local conditions.

When you are back from the Emirates, do you think you will have a much better idea of your World Cup resources?
We’ve got a pretty good idea already, though certainly we are still looking at one or two options. The guys playing at the moment (against Zimbabwe) have a bit of an inside lane. As you say, a good side to the injury situation is that we get unexpected opportunities to examine certain other players. But once we come back from the UAE we would like to see that against India, this summer, we will field very close to the party we intend taking to the World Cup.

But the Test squad seems much, much more settled …
It is, for sure. But we are moving in that direction with the one-day side as well. Why is the Test side consistently good? It’s because of the regularity in selection; people feeling at home. There are tried and trusted combinations. If we can get those sorts of things right with the one-day side, the consistency will surely come. We are disjointed at the moment partly because of injuries, don’t forget. But there’s definitely planning and thinking behind what we’re trying to do to take us forward. And I think in one-day cricket you’ll have greater turnover (of players) anyway because of the very nature of the game and the fact that there are more matches.

I feel it is to your credit that you have given Cricket South Africa very decent notice that you do not intend staying as national coach beyond the World Cup … was the ample time to scout for a successor part of your rationale for giving such good notice?
Look, CSA did ask … they are going to have to advertise for the job, of course. I said to Gerald (Majola) I don’t think I will be looking for an (extension) beyond the World Cup, and that will make the process of advertising able to be initiated, and easier. I just feel I’ve actually been appointed as the High Performance Coach and been enjoying that role. I really do believe, especially now having experienced the national job for several months, that I am better equipped to understand what is required at this level … it will aid my High Performance task. I feel I can have a bigger influence in South African cricket over a longer period of time in the (HPC) capacity. I can help the new coach considerably. There’s no sinister reason why I don’t want to go on in this particular job, and the decision is very clear in my mind. Allow me to make this point: it doesn’t take away the wanting, the passion, for the more immediate task of helping in trying to throw the major-tournament monkey off our backs. England finally got it right (winning the ICC World Twenty20 this year) after much hardship; why can’t we?

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