Seldom has a South African team played with such consistent intensity as they did against England in Nairobi on Tuesday. Seldom has every bowler applied such pressure and seldom have all 11 fielders protected the boundary and saved singles with such passion.
The ICC Knockout tournament is the richest in the sport’s history with Shaun Pollock’s squad set to return home, should they happen to win, with close to R200 000 per man. But it would be churlish at best, and insulting at worst, to suggest they were motivated by money.
Far more accurate would be to suggest the combination of work and rest was perfect, leaving all 11 players feeling hard-trained but energised and keen to take the field. Three four-hour net sessions in the days before the match were followed by a day of rest on Monday during which time aching muscles were soothed but enthusiasm for the contest brewed.
England are second only to Australia in the amount of pleasure they give South African teams when they are beaten and the talk of ‘England’s revival’ did nothing to impress the SA national team. Although none of them would ever say it, they did not believe a Test series victory over an embarrassingly inadequate West Indies team represented a rennaissance.
Beating England was very, very important to these men. They wanted to prove a point on the field, not talk about it, and they surely succeeded.
The return of Allan Donald was also an important factor. “Just having him around makes so much difference,” admitted Jacques Kallis. “He’s a great cricketer and when you have a ‘great’ in the team you naturally feel more confident. He has that effect on everyone.”
Graham Ford and Corrie van Zyl must represent the most low-profile coaching combination in cricket history. Maybe in sporting history!? Neither man is interested in plaudits or headlines and yet their work- rate would shame more than half the international cricketers in the world.
It was Ford’s plan to work the players like slaves for three days and then reward them with a day off. The plan worked rather well. There are still two matches to go, and no one is remotely complacent, but if the various elements that combine to form a winning one-day team ‘click’ as well in the semi final as they did against England, then Saurav Ganguly’s team have no chance on Friday. No team would.
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