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Week 2

June 11, 2017

There are two reasons that people who are about to panic, or who are panicking, are told to breathe deeply. Although it is often used as a metaphor for “calm down”, there are practical reasons.

Physically a person can hyper-ventilate and, equally dangerously for those who have to think clearly and make important decisions, that process becomes compromised by a lack of oxygen to the brain. Combined with abnormally high adrenalin levels, a ‘red mist’ descends which obscures the view of even the obvious conclusions.

Perhaps that was all that was missing from South Africa’s middle order. A few really deep, slow intakes of breath. Slow the game down a little, just by a few seconds, and make sure the thinking was clear.

AB de Villiers was at a loss afterwards as he walked through his half dozen or so media commitments. “It was a horrible batting display yet again on the big stage, I can’t explain it, I don’t know what else I can say. Silly, stupid mistakes, soft dismissals, we threw away a great platform for 300 which we thought was a good score,” De Villiers said.

Opener Shikhar Dhawan, who top scored with an aggressive 78 in the modest run chase, admitted that was surprised by how tame the Proteas were after losing the toss and reaching just 35-0 in the first 10-over PowerPlay after being put into bat.


“Hashim (Amla) and Quinton (de Kock) are both world-class players and they like to score quickly so we were expecting more attacking play from them. But our bowlers had a very good day, maybe it was them who kept the batsmen quiet. It was our bowlers who won this match, they must take the credit,” Dhawan said.

Just as the players do, perhaps the fans who are really hurting in the immediate aftermath of another “horrible” defeat in a global event should give themselves a 24-hour cooling off period before allowing their strongest emotions to take over.

De Villiers will certainly have much to consider although his emotions are moving as rapidly as his scoring rate on a good day. Half an hour after the game finished he said he would “not make any decisions now while I’m still standing on the field and it still hurts so much.”

But an hour later he was speaking with typical passion about his determination to lead the team back to these shores for the 2019 World Cup in two years' time.

Today, though, was another chance for the Indian fans to enjoy the celebrations and celebrate the immense enjoyment their team has brought them over the last two years.

June 10, 2017

It’s the biggest and most important game South Africa have faced since the World Cup semifinal in March two years ago.

The powerhouse of India, a quarterfinal after which one team will be eliminated and the other will progress to the semifinals in all probability as group leaders to face Bangladesh in Cardiff.

Captain AB de Villiers was as calm and relaxed as always when facing the media on Saturday. Having passed a fitness test on a tight hamstring, the Proteas skipper exuded confidence and belief.

Questions about his form and captaincy were answered with equanimity. Nonetheless, there were questions.

Q: Presumably you are fit to play?

AB: I am, yes.

Q:It’s a must-win game but the talk has been about staying relaxed and not getting too tense? Right way to go?

AB: Definitely. That's the way we've been successful throughout the year. We're really clear about what's necessary for us, and what's needed for us to go out there and win. The guys generally perform better if they are relaxed in their mindsets and not too tense. That's partly my responsibility to make sure there's no panic. It is a must-win game, but we've played quite a few of them in the last 12 to 18 months and we've had a lot of success in those must-win games.

Q: Any temptations to change the side tomorrow?

AB: We'll have a chat now at the field when we go out there to practise. We'll have a look at the wickets. The temptation is always there. I mean, there are 15 world-class players on the side, so we'll have a look at whatever is the best possible 11 for us tomorrow against India. I'm sorry I can't give you more than that. It's just we haven't decided yet.

Q: There's a bit of concern about your own form. Is that weighing on your mind?

AB: I’ve scored a few runs, not nothing. But not enough, yeah. I'm still in good form. Still hitting the ball well, as always. It's just a matter of going out there and doing it. There's nothing I can say here that's going to change anything except for that I still believe I can and hopefully I'll prove that tomorrow.

But I'm very excited with this opportunity for the team and for myself on the big stage to go and just enjoy what we do best and that's to play cricket and to enjoy each other's company out there. So we're very excited about tomorrow, and I also feel really excited about the opportunities tomorrow.

Q: The ball hasn’t been doing much, through the air or off the pitch. Are fast bowlers becoming more vulnerable? Your attack is basically a ‘bang-it-in’ attack, is that a strength or a weakness?

AB: We have a bit of everything in our bowling attack. I don't think guys have been predictable with length. There's generally been a good length form for many years that works top of off. So Jacques Kallis always jokes about them, but it's true. If you find the right length where the ball is going to hit the top of off stump, it's generally a good ball, a good length.

But the grounds change. It's different in Edgbaston. I've seen Cardiff different lengths working there, and same at The Oval. So it's important for us to make sure that by tomorrow as quickly as we can we find that perfect length to hit the top of off more often than not with the odd bounce in between here and there.

We have set plans for all the Indian batters and we've analysed it really well through the last few days, and we feel prepared to go out there and play well tomorrow, and I'm sure with the experience we have on the side, we'll find the right kind of length and information in order for us to be successful tomorrow.

Q: You've been involved in many do-or-die encounters…what is the one key thing that teams need going into such encounters and how difficult is it to maintain that throughout?

AB: I think we touched on it earlier; that it's really important to stay calm. Not get overexcited. The tendency will be there, because we all live for these kinds of moments. That's why we play cricket, we want to play on the big stage against the big teams and tomorrow is one of those games.

It's important for us to make sure we focus on why we've been successful over the last while and we've played with really good energy.I felt the guys were really hungry to succeed and unfortunately came unstuck in that last game.

So I'm expecting the same kind of intensity and hunger out there tomorrow but with a relaxed kind of mind-set. I think that's really important to remember we are playing a game of cricket, something that we love doing, and to get that smile on our faces out there when we're playing. It's going to be really important and I'll try and lead that from the front.

Q: Earlier Virat was here and he said he empathised with you in terms of not having got many runs in the tournament, for he himself had gone through that phase.

AB: That's nice of him.

Q: He obviously had much praise for you, understandably. What's your take on Virat?

AB: My take on him is quite simple, really. He's a world-class player. He's a top-class player. He's difficult to stop when he gets going.So our plans will be around trying to unsettle him early on in his innings, like any other world-class batter, really. If you don't get them out early, they can do some damage.

He just does it really well when he gets going. He can really hurt you, hurt your bowling attack and take the game away from you.

I know him really well. We've played together quite a few years at Bangalore. I respect him even more off the field. Just a good guy with a good heart. I love the way that he plays cricket. He's very competitive. He always likes to come out on top. That's the kind of -- that's the kind of approach that I also have with my cricket. I like to compete and try and contribute in order for the team to win.

I have a lot of respect for Virat, like I said, on and off the field.

Q: India haven't played Ashwin so far in the tournament. Would you rather play an attack that had him in it or didn't have him in it?

AB: It depends on the conditions, really. I'll be expecting to see him in the team tomorrow, so we are preparing to see him on the side. If it doesn't happen, then so be it.

I can't say if we prefer to have to play against him or not. He's a great bowler. He's taken many wickets in the past and he's had success against us, as well, in India. But that's up to them to decide. If he's in the team, we'll try our best to play well against him.

Q. Nobody can question your record as a batsman, but is it fair to say that your captaincy is on the line in this tournament? Do you think about that?

AB: Do I think?

Q: Your captaincy is on the line in this tournament.

AB: I think my captaincy is pretty good. I've thoroughly enjoyed every second out there. Lost the last game, so that's never ideal for a captain. I understand what I'm trying to do out there. I'm really enjoying the captaincy. I think I make some good calls. But yeah, pencil's in your hand, and I unfortunately can't control what you're going to write but in my mind I'm a good captain. So that's unfortunately going to come down to the result again tomorrow. Hopefully a good one.

June 9, 2017

A good game is a good game, it doesn’t matter who the teams are. If there’s something significant at stake and the players are committed, it’s impossible not to become absorbed by the contest.

So what a pleasure it was to be asked to commentate on the New Zealand / Bangladesh game at the Swalec Stadium in Cardiff today, not only a stunning contest but also a brief but welcome diversion from the intensity building around the knockout match between the Proteas and India at the Oval on Sunday.

Both sides were acutely aware of what was at stake – a potential semifinal, at the expense of Australia, should in-form England beat them in the final group match at Edgbaston on Saturday. It was an edgy, tense, see-sawing affair.

New Zealand reached 152-2 with 20 overs to go, a platform for 300. Bangladesh bounced back with enormous skill – 265-8. In reply Bangladesh were 33-3. And then Shakib al Hasan and Mahmadullah both scored centuries to win the game. Stunning. At least half the crowd were Bangladeshi, and half of them were in tears of joy when the winning runs were scored. Stunning.

Man-of-the-match Shakib al Hasan, a veteran of most of his country's most memorable victories, said: “I can’t yet find the words for this one, It is a little too much at this stage. Not only I am supporting England tomorrow, the whole of Bangladesh is, maybe we can reach the semifinals…”

Meanwhile, back in London. Neil McKenzie was chatting as lucidly as ever about South Africa’s much anticipated knockout match against India at the Oval on Sunday.

“Both squads are blessed with plenty of big name, big occasion players so it’s just down to who does it on the day. There’s talk of them playing Ashwin because of our three left-handers in the middle order but we all know each other well, we know what they can do, it’s not like they have ‘mystery’ balls.

“You can take a knock-out game a little bit too seriously, put too much pressure on yourself. We’ve had a lot of chats over the last couple of months on exactly that – being ok with a few extra nerves, but trusting your game plans and your blueprint, trusting your teammates. We know that we are good enough to beat anyone if we stick to the formula that has worked so well for us over the last 18 months,” McKenzie said.

“It’s the semifinal we’ve been talking about, it’s come a game early, but it’s very exciting. Hopefully we’ll get to the real semifinal. There are still five or six teams who can win and that’s a tribute to the tournament, it’s just one step below a World Cup.”

June 8, 2017

South Africa’s two brightest performers on a dismal afternoon and evening at Edgbaston in Birmingham on Wednesday remain confident that victory against India at the Oval on Sunday remains firmly within their grasp to secure a semifinal place.

Morne Morkel and David Miller both produced outstanding individual contributions to keep the Proteas in the game against Pakistan but there was little, if any meaningful support on the day. Now it is up to Morkel to find a way of combating Virat Kohli and the Indian top order.

“I was hoping you guys would have the answer to that,” he joked after the Pakistan game. “It’s going to take a big team effort to knock over India, they’re a confident team at the moment but we back ourselves to get the result that we need.”

Morkel’s three wickets in a forceful opening five overs gave the Proteas a chance – albeit a slim one – and given his injury problems he admitted it was one of his more memorable ODIs.

“There has been a lot of uncertainty around my career for quite a while so this was an opportunity for me to stand up and try to do something special. Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be, but we have to write that loss off and look ahead.

“We knew the rain was on the way so it might have been a smart move for me to bowl more overs up front but then, what about the back of the innings if the rain didn’t arrive? It was a catch-22…but the ball is coming out of the hand nicely at the moment and long may it continue,” Morkel said.

Like everyone else in the squad, he knows his place in the starting XI is not guaranteed – whatever his performances. The team has moved firmly towards a ‘horses for courses’ selection policy.

“I just try to block it out. The team has done exceptionally well getting to number one with the allrounders so I just decided to wait for my turn and then, hopefully, grab it with both hands and make the most of it,” Morkel said before jumping to the defence of captain and friend, AB de Villiers.

“It’s not all on AB’s shoulders, we need to stand up and play our part. We are all hungry to win and take this trophy home with us. But no teams are underdogs here, anyone can beat anyone else. But he still has all the energy he needs to lead this team and win games.

Miller believed South Africa still had a good chance of victory despite the Duckworth/Lewis calculation indicated that they were a long way behind.

“Unfortunately the rain came when it did but we were still in with a great chance. We were applying some good pressure and you never know how the game would have panned out. It’s never nice to lose, but it was good to contribute in whatever way I could, to get to a 220 score which at least gave us something to bowl at,” Miller said.

“There’s a bit more maturity to my game now, more understanding the situation, trying to give myself a chance. If I block a couple of overs it doesn’t matter, you can always catch up at the end. Be tight and wait for anything loose.”

With wickets continuing to fall, Miller held the fate of the innings on his shoulders at 118 for six.

“I enjoyed the challenge, a lot of dot balls and a few maidens, we just needed to build some partnerships and get us to a total we could bowl at. I don’t mind where I bat, four, five, six, seven – it doesn’t matter. But I enjoy it at five because you have a bit more time.

“The tournament was always going to be hard, we knew that from the outset. You have to win a minimum of four games out of five. We’re just going to have to play our best game against India on Sunday. We haven’t seen too many noughts from AB over the years, he performs 95 percent of the time so he’s definitely due on Sunday!”

June 7, 2017

It’s tiring and tiresome hearing all the same old clichés about Pakistan for the last couple of decades. The same things are said over and over again, often when the evidence suggests otherwise.

On Wednesday, however, the most famous of their ‘traditional’ qualities was on proud display for all to see. Unpredictability and a tendency to perform best when their backs are most firmly pressed to the wall and nobody gives them a chance.

As wretched as Pakistan were against India on Sunday, they were suddenly inspired against South Africa. It wasn’t just with bat and ball, either, it was tactically. Make no mistake, the Proteas were heavily out-thought, most notably by the bowling unit.

After four overs each from the left arm seamers, Mohammad Amir and Junaid Khan, just to see if the new ball would swing conventionally, it was over to the spinners for the middle overs with Mohammed Hafeez bowling his 10 overs in a single spell most in tandem with left armer Imad Wasim.

By then the ball was ready for reverse swing and Hasan Ali, their pre-eminent master of the skill, ripped in with wickets four, five and six.

Not since the days of Waqar and Wasim have two fast bowlers delivered so many accurate yorkers in tandem as Junaid and Amir managed to David Miller and Chris Morris and, when the batsmen belatedly took the risk of batting deep in their crease in order to get ‘under’ the yorkers to hit them back over the bowlers head, they immediately reverted to short, slower deliveries forcing the batsmen to cut and pull towards the much longer, well protected square boundaries.

Having said all of that, it was a sloppy, careless performance from the top order and they will know it. Nobody will be harder on himself than AB de Villiers whose lazy slap to backward point produced his first ever first-baller in ODIs. De Kock, Amla and Du Plessis were only marginally less culpable for their dismissals.

De Villiers had no idea that it was his first first-baller, and didn’t care: “I’ve had plenty in the backyard. I don’t know how that ball went in the air, it certainly wasn’t meant to. But first and foremost we were outplayed by the better team on the day, that much should be made clear and they deserve great credit,” De Villiers admitted with admirable grace.

“We have to beat India on Sunday at the Oval now, it’s as simple as that. We started the tournament well, had a bad day today and now we must regroup. Few things to work on, but we know what they are and we’ll be doing everything to put them right.”

Hasan was the pick of the bowlers and deservedly won the man of the match award. He does not speak English so Imad Wasim, who has played many years of club cricket in England, translated for him at the official presentation – and rather well, too – it’s not an easy job. Fortunately, I was asked to interview Imad himself afterwards.

“We said to ourselves ‘it’s all or nothing now’ after the India game where we played badly. So it was just a case of relaxing and not putting ourselves under pressure. We had clear ideas of what to do, and how to bowl to all of their batsmen. Everything worked well,” he said, beaming a charming smile. As, no doubt, was Mickey Arthur who said before the game he’d like to see South Africa “get a good beating”. And they did.

The only consolation for the SA media contingent, up from two to nine, was that we reported from one of the most state-of-the-art media centres in the world, with catering that makes you wonder whether they might be open on a restaurant basis on non-match days. A bench in a tent outside and the right result would still have been preferable.

June 6, 2017

Despite the format of this tournament having the feel of “sudden death” with every game potentially leading to progression or elimination, rain has changed the equation for several teams.

For South Africa, however, a reasonably clear forecast for Wednesday means that victory against Pakistan at Edgbaston in Birmingham will mean a guaranteed place in the semifinals, even before their final group game against India at the Oval in London on Sunday.

Q: Do you have any special plan against Pakistan's spin attack - Pakistan is containing four spinners in the side.

AB de Villers: Yeah, two of the four are part-time spinners. We've played against a lot of opposition in the last, two, three years with two spinners in it. We just played a series against England now with a couple of spinners in at wrist spinner, also finger spinner.

So not much change. Every batter has got his game plans in place for the various bowlers, not only the spinners. That's part and parcel of our analysis before games, to make sure we're ready for them. So we've gone through all bowlers and we're pretty happy with our plans.

Q: The last time you met Pakistan in a World Cup, they got the better of you, and a lot of people are wanting South Africa to win a big tournament, plus you've come in from a match practice against England. So how much pressure is there?

AB de Villers: No pressure. The last time we played them in Champions Trophy, we got the better of them at the same ground. So we are confident going into this game, without being arrogant or overconfident. We played really good, won our first game in the tournament. We did all the basics really well, so we'll be focusing on that.

We don't feel any pressure. We feel it's an opportunity, once again in this tournament to shift the pressure onto all the opposition we might face. But all our focus is on tomorrow's game. We are very, very prepared and the plans are all in place to go and take Pakistan on.

Q: What's your experience of the difference in coaching styles between Mickey Arthur and Russell Domingo?

AB de Villers: They are completely different. Obviously different human beings. Both very nice guys, really good men and I get along with both of them.

Mickey, it's such a long time ago. I can't remember his coaching style really. We had a lot of success under him, and I have good memories of him as coach with us. But that's long gone. It's something in the past.

We're with a great coach at the moment who is really leading the side well. We all get along with him and we all love him as our coach.

Q: Does that mean that you'd like to see him stay on beyond September?

AB de Villers: Yes, definitely.

Q: And have you had a chance to look at the pitch and assess the conditions and how might that sort of work into any changes you might have in terms of the balance of your side?

AB de Villers: We haven't seen the pitch at all. We're not even sure on which pitch we're playing at the moment, whether it's the one they have been using or a new one. But we'll find all of that out with our training session today. So we don't have any information about that yet.

Obviously the last team we used had a good game of cricket at The Oval but it's a new ground. But once we see the wickets and once we have an opportunity to have a discussion around that, we'll make a call.

Q: Last night you tweeted something about Wasim Akram's skills. How do you compare Pakistan's bowling attack? Do you think there is any bowler who can be as threatening or as skillful as him?

AB de Villers: No, no one. I haven't seen a bowler as good. It was just nice to watch the programme, and I felt that I needed to just get it out there. I get along with him well. He's at Calcutta with the IPL every year, and we always have nice chats. And to actually get a bit of insight in the programme on how he used to bowl and what he was thinking while he was bowling is really nice.

Obviously shared all of that with a lot of players in the past, not only with Pakistan players but a lot of players at the IPL. But that's something you're born with. It's a natural skill that he was born with.

Q: Rain is playing a spoil sport, what we have seen, Australia is on the edge. Will that be a concern in the final analysis?

AB de Villers:No, not at all. It's something that's outside of our circle. Something we can't control, if I want to say it that way. We can only control what's in front of us and that's to play good cricket to, make sure we're prepared, and we've covered all those bases.

Q: We heard JP the other day and Wayne yesterday using the phrase, "staying in the moment." Clearly this seems to be part of team tactics. What does it mean? Can you expand on that a little, staying in the moment?

AB de Villers: I wouldn't say it's part of team tactics. It's just an awareness of not thinking of the past or the future, as simple as that.

If we live in the past, there's lots of scars that we can think of, lots of bad experiences. Some good ones, as well. If you try and touch the future, it's something we can't control as of yet.

So it's just wise to try and stay in the moment with what you're confronted with at the very time. So that's basically it. It's pretty simple.

It's just a little saying that I feel is quite powerful for us to focus on the very next ball and not -- well, not the very next ball, but the one that you're actually dealing with at that moment and not trying to think of how you're going to finish your over or the few boundaries you just went for. Every bowler has the opportunity to influence the game, and that's the idea behind it.

Q: Kagiso being the No 1 ranked, a few IPL players are familiar with him but will he be your surprise weapon, so to speak, in this tournament?

AB de Villers: We have a few surprise weapons, if you want to call it that. He is a fantastic bowler and deserves to be the No 1 bowler in the world at the moment. But there are quite a few others that can do damage, as well. In fact, all 15 that are here fit into this puzzle of ours really nicely.

It's a nice team to work with. There's lots of options for me and the coach to work with and to tryout. But we have a fair idea of what we're trying to do over here, but I think all 15 have the potential to win games of cricket; some a little bit more than others. But Kagiso deserves his spot at No 1 and is definitely someone that will be there or there about in this tournament.

June 5, 2017

A truly English ‘spring’ day with constant drizzle, grey skies and a cold breeze. The idea of moving anywhere outside was not inspiring. Not often cricket teams are grateful to practise under a roof but the Proteas were certainly happy to have the Edgbaston indoor nets today.

Wayne Parnell spoke about his remarkable, two-sided performance against Sri Lanka at the Oval in the opening match when his first five overs were blasted for 45 runs, mostly by Niroshan Dickwella, before he bounced back with an equally remarkable spell of 5-0-9-0 as South Africa won convincingly by 96 runs.

“It was just about staying in the moment, staying in the game. Obviously I had 10 overs to complete and the first five did not go according to plan. It was something that was discussed – there were specific plans to him and I had a lot of success against him in South Africa but he got away this time,” Parnell said.

“When AB called on me for my next five it was just a question doing what was required and I managed to execute it.”

Parnell may have a career in politics ahead of him, should he so choose. He speaks well. It’s only later that you realise he didn’t really say anything. Or he did, but it wasn’t clear to some of us.

A victory against Pakistan at Edgbaston on Wednesday will virtually guarantee a semifinal place. Mathematically it’s possible that the Proteas will miss out with two wins, but so is a resurgence of Jacob Zuma’s popularity.

“They are a very unpredictable team so it’s just about focusing on what we do well for the next couple of days instead of focusing on them or what happened yesterday when they didn’t do well (against India),” Parnell confirmed before returning to his own role in the team.

“Over the last 12 months I’ve sat down with Russell to work out a way that I could play more consistently in this ODI outfit. We spoke a lot about consistency but, for me, the last two years have been an upward curve, putting into practice the things we have planned and it’s been successful more often than not.”

“We have developed a culture of playing ‘horses for courses’ and as we’ve seen, guys have come into the team when a certain skill has been required and they have been successful, and then they have been left out of the next game because conditions are different,” Parnell said.

Injuries have contributed to his inconsistency over the years but he remains a massive talent. It has only revealed itself at national level sporadically in the eight years since his debut but he is still a young man.

Many allrounders are only emerging at 27. Parnell emerged eight years ago. Skeptics…suck it up. There aren’t many talents in the country to match his. And yes, he does deserve another chance. And probably another one after this one, if he needs it.

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