As England and Australia get ready to play their eighth one-day international in less than a month, the South Africa captain Graeme Smith believes a lack of match practice has already counted against his side in their Champions Trophy tilt. The host nation are almost certain to be eliminated if they lose to New Zealand today, after crashing to a 55-run defeat on the opening night against Sri Lanka.
After a surfeit of cricket, India, Australia and England all rested players in the build-up to the competition in a bid to ward off the effects of burnout. However, South Africa, the world's No 1 Test side and favourites to win the Champions Trophy on home soil, have had a gap in their schedule. That manifested itself in a rusty display with the ball against the free-wheeling Sri Lankans, and Smith demanded an improvement against the Black Caps.
He said: "I think that what we need to look at as a team are that were just tentative with the ball. We lacked the basics. I think not having played for three months, those were crucial aspects for us. "Although it was our first outing we have no excuses. We need to improve quickly and hopefully do a lot better. It is a question of executing the basics properly." Tillakaratne Dilshan's purple patch continued with a century as Sri Lanka rattled up 319 for eight, their highest one-day score against South Africa.
Smith and his colleagues then toiled against the mystery spinner, Ajantha Mendis, who claimed three wickets. The much vaunted left-arm quick bowler, Wayne Parnell - who burst onto the international stage at the World Twenty20 in June - suffered more than most against the Sri Lankans. Parnell, who remained in England to play county cricket for Kent after the conclusion of the World Twenty20, leaked 79 runs from his 10 over allocation as Dilshan made merry. However, Smith expects the 20-year-old pace bowler to bounce back from the disappointment, as he said: "He's still young; he's going to have his ups and downs. It is natural and he'll have learnt a lot."
With three bowlers inside the world's top 10 limited-overs rankings and playing against a side still reeling from an opening night trouncing, New Zealand could consider themselves favourites against the Proteas. However, Daniel Vettori, their captain who completes that trio of bowling king-pins along with Shane Bond and Kyle Mills, predicts a tough task ahead. He said: "We will have to turn up and play very well to beat an exceptional South African side. We are under no illusions how hard it's going to be.
"The lack of consistency in the batting is a worry and there may be a lack of competition for places. The team that steps up with partnerships will win this tournament. "We know coming into this tournament, we will have to beat quality teams. England are obviously coming off the back of a tough series against Australia. But when they have a settled line-up they are a real ask for any team." * With agencies
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