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Prospect of early exit haunts rusty Proteas

They’ve only played one game and already South Africa face the unedifying prospect of being a loss away from possible elimination. Anand Vasu reports.

cricket Updated: Sep 24, 2009 01:59 IST
Anand Vasu

They’ve only played one game and already South Africa face the unedifying prospect of being a loss away from possible elimination. In this short tournament there’s hardly any room for indifferent results and Sri Lanka’s demolition has left the hosts with a crunch game against New Zealand on Thursday.

“The challenge for us is to turnaround very quickly,” Graeme Smith said soon after losing.

“We are definitely capable of beating both New Zealand and England if we play to our potential. But we need to get ourselves to that level very quickly. Having not played for a while, today was a good wake-up call; we need to make sure we come back stronger on Thursday. We just weren’t good enough, we didn’t hit our channels as a bowling group.”

While all this sounds good on paper, it may not be the easiest thing to do on the ground, especially considering the fact that the South Africans are coming off a three-month layoff. What will certainly help is a quick return for Herschelle Gibbs, who is still struggling with a side strain.

For the Kiwis, the prospect of dumping the hosts from their own party must be a mouth-watering one. After indifferent results in Sri Lanka — New Zealand were drubbed in the Tests and the ODIs and only tasted success in the T20s — the Kiwis will relish the chance of impressing on the world stage.

The return of Shane Bond has been the talking point, and even though the fast bowler is not quite back to his devastating best, he lends the attack the edge they have been lacking. Daniel Vettori continues to wheel away expertly, giving his team control over the game at all times.

In batting, New Zealand are no slouches either, with three genuine match-winners in Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder.

For the perennially under-achieving Kiwis, the challenge is to apply themselves consistently. It was this very facet that was lacking, Smith admitted, in South Africa’s game against Sri Lanka.

The South Africans will not need any reminding of what lies in store should they lose. It’s a word that’s not taken around the hosts, but you can be sure the chokers’ tag will be firmly affixed if the result goes the wrong way.