Smith and co raring to go
Graeme Smith insists his South Africa side will not be rusty when they get the Champions Trophy under way in Pretoria.
The world’s number one-ranked side, who are favourites for the title, open the two-week tournament with a clash against Sri Lanka at Centurion tomorrow.
The Group B match threatens to go a long way to deciding which of the teams will finish top of the pool, especially considering the poor form of the other sides in the group, England and New Zealand.
It will be the first competitive match for the Proteas since the World Twenty20 in England in June, but captain Smith believes they will not be hampered by the lack of game time.
“One of our major challenges as a team going into this tournament is our lack of competitive games,” he said.
“But we have really focused hard in the last three weeks to train as well as we can by making it as competitive as possible. We have created a lot of scenarios and challenges which will best enhance our abilities.
“The guys are motivated and excited and I think we can use the freshness to our advantage by getting in and playing good cricket up front.”
South Africa have had an outstanding two years in all forms of the game. Earlier this year they claimed back-to-back one-day series wins over Australia – 3-2 at home and 4-1 away – which turned out to be key to their rise to the summit in the 50-over game.
However, they have not won a tournament under the International Cricket Council banner for 12 years; their last and only triumph came at the 1998 Champions Trophy in Bangladesh.
“During the last couple of years we have been on an upward curve and the team will improve and grow stronger,” Smith added.
“Every sportsman knows that staying at the top is a lot harder than getting there. Instead of aiming for Australia, as they have for the past decade and a half, the rest of the world will be looking to take us down.”
The hosts will be without Herschelle Gibbs after the opener suffered a minor rib injury in a warm-up match against West Indies. Hashim Amla is expected to deputise.
Sri Lanka skipper Kumar Sangakkara, whose team are not as strongly favoured as South Africa, Australia or India, also dismissed suggestions that the hosts' lack of match practice may count against them.
“Everyone here is a professional unit and whether they have played recently or not won't matter because you are always in training and up to the challenge of playing,” he said.
“It is nice to have had a bit of cricket, but the only advantage of that is that we have been competing under pressure.
“Everyone in our team is confident, but our recent wins are not going to count for anything,” Sangakkara added, referring to victories over New Zealand and India in the Compaq Cup.
Group B begins on Wednesday when Pakistan face West Indies. Australia and India complete the pool.