South Africa out to prove their mettle
South Africa have reinvented themselves as a Twenty20 team for all seasons - and insist their reputation as serial 'chokers' is no longer fair.
Coach Mickey Arthur and wicketkeeper Mark Boucher both spoke with confidence on the eve of their ICC World Twenty20 semi-final against Pakistan at Trent Bridge, about South Africa's readiness to prove themselves.
It is at this stage that they have so often fallen short - beginning in their first World Cup in 1992 when there was little they could do about a farcical runs recalculation after rain.
Since then, they have lost World Cup semi-finals in 1999 - in an infamous final-over finish against Australia at Edgbaston - and 2007, and bowed out of the inaugural World Twenty20 on home turf following a botched Duckworth/Lewis calculation against India.
Boucher has been a cornerstone throughout - along with Jacques Kallis, who is fit to play tomorrow after a minor back problem - yet both he and Arthur sense a new South Africa has emerged.
"We have been in a couple of semis before, but there is a different feeling with this team," Boucher claimed.
"We have a different management, different players, and we've been through a lot of tests in the last year that we've come through with flying colours.
"We've handled pressure pretty well, and we hope that's a sign of things to come in the latter stages of this tournament. We hope this time we can go the whole way."
South Africa have a perfect record of five wins from five games in this tournament, a sequence completed with a 12-run victory - on the back of some high-class bowling from their spin collective - against already eliminated India in last night's final Super Eights fixture.
"We've been in some tricky situations," Boucher pointed out. “I think yesterday was one, playing against India on a wicket that probably wasn't the best.
"But we managed to come through it, and we do back ourselves to do the right things at the right time more often than any other team can."
As for the specific challenges posed by Pakistan, Boucher is aware but not fearful.
Even the early reverse-swing with which Umar Gul took a Twenty20 international-best 5-6 to see off New Zealand at The Oval on Saturday is no reason for trepidation.
"We can say if the ball is going to move for them, the ball is going to move for us as well," Boucher reasoned.
"A guy like Umar Gul is a very good bowler at the death - and he probably will swing it a bit. But we have faced him before and we have been successful against him before.
“So we're not too worried about what they're going to have in their bag. We're more worried about what we can do to try to get the best out of our players."
Arthur does not deny South Africa's past vulnerabilities, but believes they are now simply a stronger unit in mind and body.
"We could get beaten tomorrow, and then again the chokers' tag might surface," he conceded.
"But for us, that's not an issue. As long as we are playing the game to the best of our ability and we are not panicking in the crucial situations, we're not scared of losing.
"The guys have been put in these situations over the last 18 months and have come through. Mentally, our team is very, very strong and ready to go to another level."