Hamilton: South Africa captain AB de Villiers said his country needs to win the Cricket World Cup before it can erase its reputation for choking at the tournament. The key to doing well, he said, is slowing down and taking time away from the game.
Speaking today on the eve of South Africa's opening match against Zimbabwe, de Villiers said his team was not feeling fatigued after a long build-up but instead was ready to go. South Africa has entered the past four World Cups as serious contenders but has faltered each time. "It is a fresh tournament for all of us," he said. "Those past happenings and the chokers and all of that, that's still very much part of our system. There's no doubt about it. We're going to have to win to take that away, and we know that."
In 2003, as co-host, the team misread a Duckworth-Lewis table and tied a must-win group game against Sri Lanka to be eliminated. On the other three occasions, the Proteas maintained an unwanted record of never winning a World Cup knockout game. The dropped catches and silly run outs get replayed on television over and over, and each successive team faces renewed questions about whether it can hold its nerve.
De Villiers, who is competing in his third World Cup, and said his previous cup campaigns seemed to come and go very quickly. "It's the kind of tournament that you build up for, it's what you look forward to your whole life, and all the guys feel like that," he said. "So it's important for me to break things down a bit, slow it down a touch, make sure there's enough time away from the game."
De Villiers remains vital to his team's chances. In 179 one-day internationals, he has scored almost 7,500 runs at average of 52. And he's scored them at nearly a run-a-ball pace. He said that he felt he'd gotten to know his role as captain better after getting off to a rocky start three years ago, and these days had more time to make better decisions. The team was in a good space, he said, which boded well for the tournament.
"We're not getting ahead of ourselves, we're not thinking about the trophy at the moment," he said. "We know we can win, there's no doubt about it, but we know there are lots of obstacles along the way that we're going to have to overcome." Being successful would depend on whether players could take advantage of the 'special moments" in each game, he said. "The main thing is, it's a fight," he said. "It's never easy."