World Cup warm-up looms for SA in Newlands decider

Shoaib Malik of Pakistan and Faf du Plessis of South Africa pose with Trophy during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 Trophy Tour at PPC Newlands on January 29, 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa.
Shoaib Malik of Pakistan and Faf du Plessis of South Africa pose with Trophy during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 Trophy Tour at PPC Newlands on January 29, 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa.
Image: Grant Pitcher/Gallo Images

There was no avoiding the elephant in the room on Tuesday at Newlands‚ and it duly ambushed Faf du Plessis.

It was the World Cup trophy itself‚ which was in Cape Town as part of its tour to 20 countries ahead of the tournament in England from May to July.

Suddenly Wednesday’s deciding one-day international between South Africa and Pakistan mattered about as much as a hatchback unfortunate enough to be in a tusker’s path in the Kruger.

“It’s quite a surprise to see the trophy here today‚” Du Plessis said. “We didn’t know this was happening.

“It’s nice to have a look at it …”

Thing is‚ it’s about winning the thing and not looking at it.

And South Africa haven’t won the World Cup in eight attempts despite arriving at the tournament with the best team in the game more often than not. Not this time.

“We’re going with‚ I suppose‚ less pressure on us in terms of the expectations of winning it‚” Du Plessis said.

“It’s pretty clear England and India are the favourites. But that’s a nice way to go there — going there and giving it a shot and whatever happens happens.

“We’ve gone to tournaments where we’ve felt like we’ve had the strongest team on paper‚ but you don’t win games of cricket on paper. We are not the strongest team on paper.”

South Africa’s fate at the 2015 World Cup was especially difficult to come to terms with.

They sailed into the quarterfinals‚ where they hammered Sri Lanka to set up a semi with co-hosts New Zealand at Eden Park.

And despite playing well in that glare — with no help from the suits‚ who meddled in selection — they lost among the most memorable ODIs yet played. The New Zealanders were simply better when it mattered more.

How do South Africa avoid that happening again?

“I experienced a lot of hurt going through that moment where you put so much time and energy and aspiration to try and win a trophy‚ and by the end of it you’re absolutely shattered‚” Du Plessis said.

“All of us badly want to win a World Cup. But‚ for me as captain‚ it’s important to make sure that the players don’t feel like they have to be supermen to try and win that tournament. They just have to go there and try and be the best they can be.

“In the past we’ve been guilty of feeling like you need to do something special on the day‚ something remarkable. That expectation can put a lot of weight on your shoulders.

“My chats with the team have been around trying to get rid of that‚ trying to free them up — more mentally than anything else.

“We’ve played some really good cricket in tournaments but we’ve always had moments where the pressure got too much for us. It’s about how you deal with it‚ how you cope with it.

“I hope that‚ by talking to players and giving them a ‘how’ for getting out of it‚ perhaps when we get there they’ll do that better.”

The usual nuts-and-bolts banalities about selection‚ tactics and preferred conditions for Wednesday’s game were also aired.

Happily the conversation was then steered back to what mattered. The match will decide a series locked at 2-2‚ a tense tussle between quality teams who have had to scramble back from the edge to stay alive in the contest: a valuable warm-up for the World Cup itself.

What did Du Plessis want his team to learn at Newlands on Wednesday?

“It’s about finding out how we play big games better. That’s by not making it bigger than it already is.

“Obviously it is a big game. But when we make it a big thing we possibly don’t bring the best out of ourselves as a team.

“It’s about freeing up the guys to go out there and express themselves in whatever way they want to‚ not to see it as a huge game where they need to play differently.”

It’s about‚ Du Plessis didn’t say‚ making the elephant understand that the mouse he’s terrified of can’t hurt him.

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