South Africa urged to stay cool as pressure mounts

Updated June 19, 2019

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BIRMINGHAM: South African cricketers stretch out during a training session at Edgbaston on Tuesday.—AFP
BIRMINGHAM: South African cricketers stretch out during a training session at Edgbaston on Tuesday.—AFP

BIRMINGHAM: Quin­ton de Kock has told his South Africa team-mates to keep their heads when they face New Zealand in a must-win World Cup match on Wednesday.

South Africa’s hopes of making the semi-finals would effectively be over if they lose at Edgbaston after a wretched start to the tournament.

Defeats to England, Bangladesh and India have left South Africa wicket-keeper/batsman de Kock billing the New Zealand match as a ‘quarter-final’.

A nine-wicket victory over Afghanistan on Saturday was their first win in this World Cup in England and Wales.

The Proteas cannot afford any more slip-ups in their remaining games against New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia if they are to maintain slender hopes of a semi-final berth.

De Kock admits South Africa’s chances of avoiding an embarrassingly early elimination will be wrecked if they do not cope with the stress of playing in a do-or-die situation.

“Obviously it’s a big game for us but, in saying that, our next three or four games that we have, they are all going to be big games for us for the rest of the tournament,” he said.

“We’re just going to have to go out there, keep our heads steady and play freely.

“Tomorrow is a quarter-final, I guess you could say it, but if we do win it, then it’s another big game again.

“We have to win all the games, not just focus on tomorrow. But in saying that, we know how good New Zealand are playing at the moment. They are a big team in World Cups. They always seem to step up.”

Unbeaten New Zealand are favourites to push South Africa towards the World Cup exit door and de Kock admits morale among Faf du Plessis’s squad has not been as high as he would like.

But he hopes the comprehensive victory against minnows Afghanistan last Saturday will provide a much-needed spark in the nick of time.

“I think before our first game that we played against England, we were in a pretty good space also then, mentally and with our preparation,” he said. “Then obviously, during the course of the tournament, obviously after losing all the time, there’s always a bit of a slump in being mentally strong.

“Getting a win again has given us high hopes. It just becomes a mental game at a World Cup, trying to deal with all the pressures and stuff.

“We’ve put a lot of emphasis on our energy going into the games, and the situation we’re in right now, our energy needs to be better than ever.”

Meanwhile, New Zealand pace bowler Trent Boult has warned his side not to underestimate ‘hungry’ South Africa.

The Black Caps will go top of the World Cup group table if they beat South Africa at Edgbaston.

But the Proteas know they cannot afford another defeat if they want to maintain their slender hopes of a semi-final place.

“It’s a must-win in their tournament,” Boult said. “We’re looking forward to facing them and I am sure they are eager and hungry to put in a good performance, because it’s a big one for them.”

The stakes are not as high as in their meetings at the past two World Cups, with New Zealand winning the quarter-final clash in 2011 and a semi-final showdown in 2015.

NEW ZEALAND’S Trent Boult bats in the nets during  a practice session on Tuesday.—AFP
NEW ZEALAND’S Trent Boult bats in the nets during a practice session on Tuesday.—AFP

Boult has fond memories of New Zealand’s run to the World Cup final four years ago and hopes his team can make another strong showing in the current edition.

“There have always been exciting games between New Zealand and South Africa over the past World Cups, and the last time that we met each other in 2015, the semi-final at Eden Park, was one of the greatest games that the Kiwis have played,” he said.

“It obviously got a lot of attention back home and it was a cool one to be a part of. It’s a chance for us to go out there and perform and show we can bring the game and the style that we play back home in New Zealand very well, to test it against quality players in foreign conditions on a big stage, so we can’t wait.”

Unbeaten New Zealand have defeated Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan so far in the tournament, with their game against India washed out.

The impressive form of Boult and his fellow pace bowlers Matthew Henry and Lockie Ferguson has been key to each victory.

“As a unit we’ve been going really well. With the ball, we’ve put it where we wanted and we’ve put a lot of pressure on the teams that we’ve come up against,” Boult said. “If we can continue to do it as a unit and obviously give us some lower totals to chase, then I will be happy.

“I think we’ve been lucky enough to be on a couple of new surfaces that have offered a lot to our style of bowling.”

Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2019