South Africa face old rivals in warm up

There are only two survivors from that semi-final between South Africa and Australia at Edgbaston in 1999 in this World Cup. Only Jacques Kallis and Ricky Ponting have experienced the heartache and exhilaration that laid the foundation for an intense rivalry between the two countries in the 21st century. Most of the men in the present squads only had a small taste of the tough contest that plays out when these two teams meet, in the 2008-09 season. They’ll be served another morsel in the warm-up match in Bangalore, and even though it’s only for practice, the winners will take confidence out of beating their old foes.

South Africa have more painful memories and will be particularly gleeful if they walk away with a victory, although coach Corrie van Zyl warned against reading too much into the match. “It’s important for us to win in terms of getting ready for the 24th, which is when the real thing starts,” he said. South Africa have another ten days before their World Cup campaign gets underway against West Indies in Delhi and are being careful not to get distracted before then.

The outcome of tomorrow’s match could be one such distraction, perhaps more so if South Africa win. Australia are by no means the invincible side they once were, and they don’t have the same hold over South Africa that they once did, but the contest is still talked up. van Zyl is trying to get his team to think beyond that. “To think about those things in the past is unnecessary,” he said. “This is a different side now.”

The biggest change for South Africa is that they have a more varied bowling attack than ever before, headlined by three frontline and two part-time spinners. Collectively, they took six wickets in the warm-up game against Zimbabwe, and after seeing the amount of turn the Bangalore pitch offered, they must be drooling at the sight of it. Australia lost 9 for 58 against India on Sunday, and their batsmen have plenty to ponder over before facing South Africa’s spinners, all of whom are likely to play.

“We want to give everyone an opportunity,” van Zyl said, indicating South Africa may field all 15 players. It will be a helpful exercise for Dale Steyn, who got nothing out of the Chennai pitch and saw some Australian seamers succeed in Bangalore. Steyn bowled much slower than normal against Zimbabwe but there were no doubts over his fitness. “Dale brings a uniqueness to the bowling attack with his pace and swing and is obviously a very important player for us. We are looking to have a complete bowling attack and he is part of that.”

There was a fear that one of the prongs of that attack, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, may be out of action for a while after spraining his knee against Zimbabwe but he was running during training with no problems. “He has done work with the physio and practiced under guidance and we hope he will be ready for tomorrow,” van Zyl said.

The emphasis is on getting every member of the squad as prepared as possible and not on the overall outcome. With that in mind, the middle order is a concern because it did not have much time at the crease on Saturday. Although van Zyl would like to see the likes of JP Duminy, Colin Ingram and Johan Botha batting, he doesn’t want it to come “because the top order did a bad job.” Ideally he would like them to “get an opportunity at a later stage in the innings.”

The only other player whose preparation is under scrutiny is Jacques Kallis. He batted with sublime confidence on Saturday but did not bowl and is unlikely to do so on Tuesday. van Zyl hoped the step-by-step reintroduction will pay off and Kallis will peak during the tournament. “When he has had periods of rest, he always comes back so strongly, so we hope that will happen again. It’s important that he is ready for the business end.”

That end of the tournament is not for another five weeks, and even though many will see Tuesday’s match as a possible semi-final or final, it will be crucial for South Africa to remember that it isn’t and concentrate on their method, not the result. A victory over Australia later in the tournament will be much sweeter.


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