England earn Smith's respect
South Africa captain Graeme Smith is wary of facing an England team with a point to prove.
The sides meet in Chennai tomorrow on the back of contrasting results, South Africa as leaders of Group B after winning their first two games in emphatic fashion, and England with Wednesday’s defeat by Ireland still fresh in the memory.
As shocking as that result was, however, Smith refuses to fall into the trap of underestimating a team that tied with tournament favourites India a week ago.
“They (England) are a very proud team and have had some good ups over the last few years,” Smith said. “Their performances have been really credible over a long period of time, so you have to respect them.
“They have the ability to play really well tomorrow and we know that. We expect them to bounce back.
“The Ireland result will have hit them. But it was terrific for the World Cup to watch them get the victory.”
In beating West Indies by seven wickets and the Netherlands by 231 runs, South Africa have wasted little time in serving notice of their threat at this tournament.
While England’s batting has been hugely impressive, captain Andrew Strauss and team director Andy Flower admit they have failed to meet their high standards with the ball and, most noticeably, in the field.
They have conceded 292, 338 and 329 on admittedly flat surfaces, and Smith is hoping South Africa’s powerful batting line-up can profit at the MA Chidambaram Stadium.
“I think it’s a fair reflection on the way they’ve bowled so far,” added Smith. “We have a good idea of what to expect, so if we can lay the platform tomorrow, we can take advantage of that lack of confidence.
“But they are quality bowlers. It’s always difficult, and you can’t get caught up in the way things have gone before.”
Smith, set to call time after this tournament on his eight-year tenure as South Africa captain, would doubtless love to go out with an elusive global trophy in the possession of a team who always impress as major contenders yet have been saddled with the tag of ‘chokers’ under pressure.
He is at ease with the knowledge his personal decision is having no detrimental effect on his team at such a high-profile event - and may even have a galvanising impact.
“It’s not affecting us at all,” Smith said. “Things have been very normal for us as a squad, and providing more motivation if anything.
“It was a personal decision, and I’ve been in the job for eight years, which is more than most other captains tend to last these days.
“From my perspective, I’m very proud of what I’ve done and I wanted to give myself the best chance of a World Cup, knowing I’ve given it my best shot with the team and the players.”
Unlike AB de Villiers, who boasts a century in each of South Africa’s first two games, Smith has yet to make big runs in this campaign.
But he insisted: “I’m not really worried. I’ve got starts in all the warm-up games and in the first couple here.
“I just need to turn one of those starts into a big score. At this stage of the tournament, I’m feeling pretty solid and it’ll be nice just to get a good run going.”