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Smith wary of old nemesis

As the front-runners cope with soaring expectations, skippers have their task cut out. Sanjjeev Karan Samyal reports.

india Updated: Mar 11, 2011 23:50 IST
Sanjjeev Karan Samyal

It's amazing how quickly fortunes can change. One poor batting session and suddenly the pressure is on South Africa.

With a strong start to the tournament --- a comfortable seven-wicket win over West Indies and a 231-run win against the Netherlands --- they were shaping up as the team to beat.

They did their reputation no harm when they skittled out England for 171 at Chennai. It was a game they dominated for most part of the day, but suffered another of their famous collapses to lose by six runs. More than the result, it was the manner of defeat, which caused them to surrender the early advantage, as it brought the chokers' tag back in circulation.

Smith's team is now on four points after three games and a defeat against India on Saturday will leave them with tricky games against Bangladesh, who had upset them in the Super Eight stage in 2007, and Ireland.

The onus is on the skipper to inspire his team. The task is not easy. Smith's form has been sketchy - 87 runs in three innings at an average of 29.

It's not the ideal platform for the left-hander to get his rhythm back.

Apart from worrying about lifting his team from the close defeat, Smith is up against the bowler who has troubled him the most. Zaheer Khan has dismissed Smith the highest number of times in both ODIs (five) and Tests. The left-arm pacer is in hot form too, being among the leading bowlers with 11 wickets.

"He has been successful against me and a number of left-handers. He is a quality bowler with the new ball. It's a challenge. I have worked on a few things with Duncan Fletcher, so hopefully it will help," said Smith, who had got out to Zaheer at this venue (2010 Test).

The South Africans are putting up a brave front and Smith said the Chennai setback had not affected the morale. "The spirit around the group is still terrific. We are keeping the outside influences out (as) keeping a decent perspective is important," he said.