x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

South Africa chokers no more, says confident AB de Villiers

Following shock exits from the 1992, 1996, 1999 and 2007 World Cups, South Africa's cricket team have been criticised for not being tough enough. Not this time, insists their ODI player of the year.

AB de Villiers, left, has been in form with the bat for South Africa.
AB de Villiers, left, has been in form with the bat for South Africa.

South Africa are determined to make a new start at the World Cup opening on February 19 after semi-final exits in 1992, 1999 and 2007 and a shock quarter-final loss to West Indies in 1996.

AB de Villiers, who will add the wicketkeeper's role to his batting duties, said the team were not looking back.

"We really are not focusing on that at the moment," he told reporters. "The thing that has happened in the past is history. We've got an all-new side with a different look."

"ICC [International Cricket Council] events are difficult things, you have to peak at the right time. It has nothing to do with choking or throwing a game away. It's pressure and other teams may have played better that time.

"[In the] last two years, three maybe even, we played the big situations very well. We are going to do exactly the same in this tournament.

"We don't need extra help or psychologists. We've got little things to work on but definitely it's not about choking."

Morne Morkel, his teammate was equally confident.

"We have a lot of young and fresh guys, all hungry to get success and start our own legacy," he said.

"[This is an opportunity] also for those guys who played before us to do something special. We have the team and got the backing from home. We'll be ready. We have a point to prove."

Morkel and Dale Steyn, his new ball partner, will spearhead South Africa's attack and the 26-year-old was confident of success even though the subcontinent's flat pitches will deny him his customary steep bounce.

"I think it can also play in my favour," Morkel said.

"I have seen here the bounce can get really inconsistent. Tall bowlers, if they hit the deck hard and get inconsistent bounce, that can count as a favour."

A safe pair of hands behind the wicket will instil confidence in Morkel and his bowling colleagues and De Villiers said he was ready for what looked like a tough test of his keeping skills.

"It's a different role for me," said the Pretoria-born player who will turn 27 on February 17.

"It's going to be physically quite challenging but something I have worked on in the last few months. It's best for the team at the moment, so that's something I'm looking forward to. It's going to be a big challenge for me but I'm ready for it.

"All the keepers will have a tough time. It's not easy to keep in the subcontinent. I've seen lot of keepers making lots of mistakes here, even the local keepers.

"When you let through a bye, it's not the end of the world, you got to move on make sure you focus on the next ball. I'll be prepared in the best possible way I can."

South Africa take on the West Indies in their first Group B match on February 24 in Delhi.

Meanwhile Ricky Ponting, the Australia captain, has picked South Africa and India, the co-hosts, as the teams to watch out for during the tournament.

But Ponting, who led his country to World Cup successes in 2003 and 2007, does not wish to single out any particular team as favourites for the tournament.

"I don't care who the favourite is. I don't know whether there is such a thing in a tournament like this," Ponting said.

"India and South Africa are probably the standout teams. They are the powerhouses of international cricket.

"Pakistan and New Zealand are never too far away in ICC events. Sri Lanka, in these conditions, are as good an ODI side as there is in the game."

Australia go into the tournament on the back of a 6-1 demolition of England in their most recent one-day series, but Ponting feels the results in the lead-up do not count for much.

"I don't really care where we start the tournament. It's irrelevant," the right-hand batsman said.

"I think going into the last World Cup there was negativity around us. We lost the Commonwealth Bank series and lost to New Zealand. So there were a few doubts around our team but we went there and won the World Cup."

Success this time around would make Australia the first team to win four-consecutive World Cups but that is a statistic to which Ponting is not paying too much attention.

"I never thought what it means if we win the World Cup," he said.

"If we get to the final, I might sit back and think what it means for me and for us to win another World Cup. But we can't afford to look that far away.

"We have a really good squad and we will be doing everything to the best of our ability."

Michael Hussey was a surprise omission from Australia's squad for the tournament, with the middle-order batsman being left behind due to a hamstring problem that would have seen him miss their opening game.

Ponting said: "Mike Hussey is a big loss to our set-up. His experience and knowledge of the game in a tournament like this are almost second to none. But it has given an opportunity to his brother David."

Australia are camped in Bangalore and are scheduled to play two warm-up matches - against India on Sunday and South Africa on Tuesday - before embarking on the defence of their title.