One of the title favourites, South Africa start their World Cup sojourn with a warm-up match against Zimbabwe here tomorrow, a match which is expected to help both teams assess their fitness and acclimatise to the conditions ahead of the big one.
High on confidence after their ODI series win over India last month, South Africa will look to gain vital match practice in the day-night encounter at the refurbished M A Chidambaram Stadium here.
The Greame Smith-led Proteas, after a hard-fought Test and ODI series against India at home, have had two days of nets since their arrival here on Wednesday. Smith had already indicated that the team's sole aim this time around, is to bag the coveted trophy that has not only eluded them so far but also earned them the tag of chokers. Having lost three semifinals and a quarterfinal despite being the title contenders in their past five World Cup appearances, South Africans would like to make it a memorable event for the 30-year old Smith, on his last ODI assignment as the skipper.
South Africa are in Group B with Bangladesh, England, India, West Indies, Ireland and the Netherlands. They are slated to play another warm-up tie against Australia on February 15, nine days before opening their World Cup campaign against the West Indies on February 24. Despite leading a team bulk of which consists of World Cup first-timers, Smith sounded confident and said his wards are best prepared.
A major worry, of course, will be the fitness of veteran all-rounder Jacques Kallis, who is recovering from a rib injury he suffered during the series against India.
Smith has indicated that Kallis would not bowl tomorrow. Besides Smith and Kallis, AB de Villiers and Robin Petersen are the other two survivors from the last edition of the tournament in the West Indies.
Realising the importance of slow bowlers on sub-continental wickets, South Africa have plenty of options in their spin attack, described by Smith as the most varied. Pakistan-born uncapped leg-spinner Imran Tahir is tipped to be the secret weapon for the Proteas who also have two other frontline spinners Johan Botha and Peterson besides part-timers.
The pace attack would be spearheaded by Dale Steyn. Morne van Wyk, with his experience, would bring more strength to the batting line-up that boasts of the likes of the in-form Hashim Amla, who has consistently done well against India, AB de Villiers and J P Duminy.
On the other hand, Zimbabwe, currently in a rebuilding phase, have nothing to lose and would look to cause an upset or two, like they did against Australia in a warm-up tie during the T-20 World Cup in April last year. Chasing Zimbabwe's 173 for seven, Australians fell short by one run.
Coached by former England batsman Alan Butcher, Zimbabwe have won just eight of 46 matches in seven appearances. The team's last notable performance in the tournament was in 1999 when it beat India and South Africa to storm into the Super Six stage.
Skippered by all-rounder Elton Chigumbura, Zimbabwe are hoping their tour of Bangladesh last December and inputs from West Indian legend and consultant Brain Lara would stand them in good stead during the tournament. The team has three seamers, as many specialist slow bowlers, and it would rely on them to make for the lack of firepower in fast bowling.