Calm heads are needed if Proteas are to pre­vail

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - LUNGANI ZAMA

SOUTH AFRICA had an op­tional train­ing day yes­ter­day, in the scenic sur­rounds of Lord’s.

Only three turned up for that op­tional, but all around them, cricket HQ was a hive of ur­gent ac­tiv­ity.

The sun came out in patches but, when it did, it bathed St John’s Wood in the most mag­nif­i­cent hue.

Ad­ja­cent to the in­door fa­cil­ity that the Proteas utilised, the vil­lage green ground played host to a golden oldies’ Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy fes­ti­val of sorts.

When the Proteas cleared away, a lit­ter of mini-cricket en­thu­si­asts took over the in­door cen­tre for a ses­sion, while another fa­cil­ity held cricket lessons for dis­abled chil­dren. In­side the hal­lowed four walls of se­ri­ous play, tours of the sta­dium chuntered on all day, while the grounds­man metic­u­lously pre­pared the strip for the Test be­tween Eng­land and South Africa in a few weeks.

Ev­ery­where, there was chat­ter, as well as an un­spo­ken un­der­stand­ing of be­ing some­where to­tally el­e­vated from any other spot on the cricket planet. It was in­trigu­ing to ob­serve, young and old go­ing on with their own pur­suits at ei­ther end of the cricket scale, all the while as the Proteas pre­pared for one of the big­gest games of their ca­reers.

The zen-like sur­rounds of crick­et­ing HQ is ex­actly the mood that the Proteas are try­ing to ap­proach to­mor­row’s de­fin­i­tive clash against In­dia with. “You can take a knock­out game a bit too se­ri­ously, be­cause there is no in­sur­ance,” bat­ting coach Neil McKen­zie of­fered. “We’ve been chat­ting over the past few months about keep­ing things ex­actly the same as any other game,” he con­tin­ued, as he told of the dan­gers of play­ers tight­en­ing up in a must-win af­fair.

There are few men who speak with a greater sense of calm than the metic­u­lous McKen­zie and his bat­ting unit must find sim­i­lar calm amidst what will be a ca­coph­ony of In­dian sup­port to­mor­row. McKen­zie ad­mit­ted that they will have to soak that hys­te­ria in, and then do what they must to si­lence it, or at least tem­po­rar­ily hush it.

“The guys are up for it, and the cricket that we’ve played over the last 18 months sug­gests that if we get our blue­print right, and play some­where close to where we know can, we should come out on top,” the for­mer in­ter­na­tional straight-bat­ted.

“In­dia are a qual­ity team, there are a lot of su­per­stars in their side and our side, so it is down to who takes the ini­tia­tive first.”

It is as sim­ple as a pair of heavy­weights slug­ging at one another, each hop­ing that their blows will do more dam­age, cause more panic in the op­pos­ing ranks. “Ev­ery­body knows what ev­ery­body can do, and it’s down to who does it on the day,” McKen­zie added on the mat­ter of In­dia us­ing spin as a weapon.

“We know what Ash­win can do, and we know what Jadeja can do. A lot of the guys played with or against them in the IPL,” he pointed out.

That fa­mil­iar­ity will be put to the test to­mor­row, and one big na­tion will have to fold their hand pre­ma­turely at the cricket-poker ta­ble.

It’s the high­est of stakes, and these dizzy oc­ca­sions call for calm heads, the type usu­ally found dot­ted around Lord’s on a daily ba­sis.

The SA camp is con­fi­dent skip­per AB de Vil­liers will shake off his ham­string strain, and lead the side to­mor­row.

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