South Africa primed for success
England’s two World Twenty20 warm-up opponents are confident they have done their homework and are ready to make their mark in an ICC tournament.
Although South Africa have won a world event - the ICC Knockout Trophy in 1998 - they have often been accused of ‘choking’ at the crucial moment - a tag they were unable to erase when they lost in the semi-finals of the last World Twenty20 at Trent Bridge just under a year ago.
Bangladesh, meanwhile, have significantly less experience at the top table and are still considered minnows.
But their captain Shakib Al Hasan is enthused by many of Bangladesh’s recent performances, including those against England this winter, while South Africa counterpart Graeme Smith is grateful for an early second opportunity to beat the rest in the sport’s shortest format.
“It is a pretty quick turnaround from last year’s Twenty20,” said Smith, whose team face England at the Kensington Oval on Thursday - 24 hours after Bangladesh do likewise.
“It’s a very short, intense tournament - and a lot of teams are close together. That’s what makes it so exciting to watch. It’s very competitive, and on any given day any team can beat another.”
Opener Smith is fit again after a broken finger which curtailed his involvement in the Indian Premier League.
He believes that lay-off may have been a longer-term help because it gave him much-needed time to bond with Corrie van Zyl, the new South Africa coach following the winter resignation of Mickey Arthur.
“The injury has healed a lot quicker than I expected,” added Smith. “It was probably a small blessing in disguise in many ways, with the change of coach - allowing me to spend some time with Corrie and the management team and plan for this.
“To be with Mickey for five years, his resignation meant it was quite an emotional time - quite draining, especially for me on a personal level.
“There has been an interim process; the tour to India was quite quick after that, but the last six weeks have allowed Corrie time to settle down.
“He is a very detailed, hard-working guy and the injury allowed me and him some time to talk and plan and get to know each other a little bit better and form a relationship.
“It’s a little bit of a bonus coming out of the injury. Otherwise, being in India for the last six weeks would have been a little bit panicky.”
As for the challenges ahead, Smith does not hide from those who have pigeon-holed South Africa as bottlers.
Nor does he deny the fact that in new call-up Craig Kieswetter, England have a South Africa-born cricketer his native country would like to have held on to.
“It’s up to us to shed tags or do whatever we need to do to get rid of the disappointing semi-final loss last year,” he said.
“The wicketkeeper-batsman is the next challenge in South African cricket, with Mark (Boucher) having been around for a long time.
“You obviously want to have as much talent to choose from as possible, so we would have liked to have had him (Kieswetter) in our system.”
All-rounder Shakib has no such regrets and, although dangerous opening batsman Tamim Iqbal may not be fully recovered from a hand injury in time to face England, Bangladesh believe they are ready.
“We’ve had good preparation to do well, having played in our domestic tournament,” said Shakib, who will become the first Bangladeshi to play county cricket when he turns out for Worcestershire this summer.
“It is another chance for us to show the world how good we are and how much we have improved.
“We believe we have a realistic chance, but we know we will have to play well against (group opponents) Pakistan and Australia. and cannot make any mistakes against those two teams.”