When India take the field at Port Elizabeth on Wednesday afternoon, they would be hoping that the St George’s Park magic will work for them, like it did, almost two years ago, for South Africa.
On February 4, 2005, South Africa came here battered and bruised, having lost 12 of the last 14 games they had played, including 10 on trot. They were worse off than India is at the moment, actually (incredible as it may seem), their only win in that period coming against Bangladesh.
Graeme Smith was under tremendous pressure, people across the spectra were calling for his head and there were calls for large-scale changes in the team. Against the odds, South Africa won that game, beating England by three wickets while chasing, with Smith himself making a ton.
From here on, recalled Smith on Tuesday, things changed around. “After that, we went 20 games unbeaten, an incredible run. I remember coming here under probably as much pressure as the Indians are under now and we really needed one good win.
“That was a tight game, we chased 270 and that really turned our ODI form around. Now, we come here with that confidence so it’s important we keep that pressure on and don’t allow India to turn themselves around.”
There is no doubt the Proteas, with everything coming together for them, would go for the kill, turning the screws on the field and in the mind. Smith, asked if India’s performance (or lack of it, rather) had surprised him, initially said it was would not be correct of him to comment and then opened up: “Obviously they wouldn’t be happy with their results... Every guy in the team would be upset and would be looking to turn things around.”
He said, though, that South Africa could look to “keep attacking” and stay focussed on winning the series here itself. “If we can keep exploiting their weaknesses, we’re doing our job. I’m not here to solve India’s problems, I’m here to exploit them.”
Rather ominous words but India would hope they will not be prophetic.
Incidentally, when asked whether India were good enough opposition in terms of preparation before the World Cup, the canny Smith remarked: “Well, Pakistan are coming over after India,” and then quickly added a soother: “But as I’ve said, there are some world-class cricketers in that Indian team and you can never take them for granted.”
He then went on to spoil it all! “They haven’t performed well in one-day cricket over the last six months and we’ve just kept them on the backfoot so far. The way we wanted to attack India, it’s worked superbly and that’s very encouraging for me as a leader.
Our bowlers are doing it fantastically well, we’re getting better and better every game and I think we’re just starting to show in one-day cricket what we’re capable of.”
India, as usual, can hope. After all, there’s always hope when nothing else’s left in the box. And Smith said that would be what they were looking to finish on the morrow. “If we win tomorrow, we win the series and it gives them no hope. Obviously, we’re very hungry to keep up the good results.”