Smith Set for Last Hurrah at World Cup

Chennai, Feb 10 (IANS): For South Africa, the ICC World Cup has been a saga of horror and near-misses since their debut in 1992, a year after their re-admission into mainstream sport in the post-Apartheid era. This time around, skipper Graeme Smith aims to set the record straight by living up to the tag of one of the title favourites.

The Proteas, for all their might, talent and potential, are still to win any ICC tournament, something that Smith, in his last tournament as the ODI captain, is only too aware of.

Replying to a query on this subject at a media conference here Thursday, Smith said: "It is an opportunity for me to well and go out on a high as a captain. I have learnt a lot from the last World Cup and I feel if we play it right, we can win."

The South Africans arrived here Wednesday ahead of a warm-up game against Zimbabwe Saturday as part of their preparations for the World Cup commencing Feb 19.

Smith said he was not under any pressure as a captain.

"I don't see it as a pressure. I see it the other way round. It is an important phase in South Africa cricket. We have trained hard and prepared well. The players had a very good training session. I want to allow the younger players to play their natural game.

"I would like to lead from the front, trust my guys as captain and give them confidence. There is a lot of talent in the squad," said the 30-year-old who took over the captaincy eight years ago and at a time when South African cricket was recovering from the match-fixing scandal involving their then-captain Hansie Cronje.

He opined that South Africa's chances of winning the Cup hinged on the team peaking at the right time besides maintaining a high level of performance through the six-week competition.

"We have come here with a lot of new faces and energy. I hope we can peak at the right time and have a good run through the tournament. It is a long tournament and we need to maintain high standards through the competition. If we play good cricket and perform better than other teams, we can win the Cup."

Smith said that the South African team was better than its predecessor four years ago when the tournament was played in the West Indies where the Proteas lost to Australia in the semi-finals.

"We have two left-arm seamers (Wayne Parnell and Lonwabo Tsotsobe) and three front line spinners (Imran Tahir, Robin Peterson and Johan Botha). There are others too who can chip in. So, we have come here with a lot of variety in our bowling.

"We have different options and we need to pick the right combination depending on the conditions," he said.

In the context of bowling attack, Smith admitted that all-rounder Jacques Kallis recovering from a side strain and bruised rib that kept him out of the recent five-match ODI series against India, was a key player, but would not expose the veteran in the early part of the World Cup.

"There is no need to expose him early. We will not put any pressure on him. He started bowling today. We have a good medical team and we will manage him. A fit Jacques will be a huge asset to the team."

Besides the role of spinners in the World Cup, Smith said the third Powerplay would play a key role in the matches.

"Powerplay three is a key moment. When we take it and how you execute it will matter. All teams have prepared well to tackle the first 10 overs of power play and in the big hitting during the last 10."

On playing the World Cup in the sub-continent, Smith said: "As a cricketer, it is a dream come true to play in a region where cricket is a passion."


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