South Africa launch campaign for the elusive Cup

Last Updated: Feb 24, 2011, 10:20 AM IST

New Delhi: Desperate to shed the tag of chokers which has haunted them for long, South Africa will be keen to launch their cricket World Cup campaign on a positive note when they take on an unpredictable West Indies in a Group-B match here on Thursday.

The Proteas have never won the World Cup and Graeme Smith`s men will undoubtedly leave no stone unturned to lay their hands on the coveted trophy.

The capital`s fluctuating weather does threaten to play spoilsport with the Met Department predicting rain tomorrow but if that turns out to be wrong, it promises to be a thrilling floodlit contest at the Ferozeshah Kotla.

South Africa have never reached a final of the mega event, having been the losing semi-finalist in 1992, 1999 and 2007, and their tendency to choke in crunch situations has compounded their misery.

The team`s failure to qualify for the second round at home in 2003 cost Shaun Pollock the captaincy and his successor, Smith, also failed to reverse the fortunes in the 2007 edition in the Caribbeans.

But with a relatively young team and 11 members who are featuring in the World Cup for the first time, the South Africans reckon they will be able to break the jinx this time around.

"A lot is being made in the media about the chokers tag. But we players don`t even think about it. Everytime the team loses people say the team has choked. But it is certainly not something which haunt us", senior player Jacques Kallis said.

"We have a young team, 11 out of the 15 have never played in a World Cup. So it doesn`t bother us. We are just worried about playing good cricket," he said.

Clearly, the Proteas have the firepower and the talent but it remains to be seen whether they can deliver the goods when it matters most.

The West Indies, on the other hand, are in a transition phase but the team has enough potential to upset any fancied side on its day.

Both the teams are in a positive frame of mind ahead of their lung-opener at the Kotla which is staging its first international match since December 2009 when a one-dayer between India and Sri Lanka was abandoned due to a "dangerous"
pitch.

Since then, much effort has gone into relaying the pitch under the supervision of ICC pitch consultant Andy Atkinson and nobody has a clue as to how the track will behave.

The South Africans will be relying heavily on the form and fitness of stalwart Kallis, who is returning to the squad after a rib injury.

Kallis, who is the number one all-rounder in ODI cricket with 11,002 runs and 259 wickets, has dispelled any concerns about his fitness, saying he has completely recovered from the injury.

"So far, everything is going according to plan. I have been bowling for about a week. I am 100 per cent fit for the match. In fact, most of the guys are in good condition, raring to go. The good thing is that we have all the 15 to pick from," Kallis said.

Although South Africa boast of a good record against the West Indies in recent times, Kallis said both the teams were evenly balanced and the Proteas need to be on top of their game.

"They are a dangerous side. They have got a few players who can change the game. We need to be on top of our game. You can`t take any side lightly because one bad result can put pressure," Kallis said.

The Proteas have a formidable batting line-up as Smith, Hashim Amla, A B de Villiers and J P Duminy can tear any bowling attack to shreds on their day.

The bowling attack also looks quite balanced with Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel spearheading the fast bowling department which also includes the young Wayne Parnell.

Johan Botha, Robin Peterson and Imran Tahir are shouldering the spin bowling responsibility.

The West Indies have a relatively young team and much will depend on the seasoned Chris Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan to put up a substantial score on the board.

The hard-hitting Kieron Pollard, Kemar Roach, Darren Bravo and Dwayne Bravo are exciting cricketers and will need to play to their potential to keep the West Indies in the reckoning.

The Caribbean players are aware that they have to play exceptionally well to put it across title aspirants South Africa.

"We are playing one of the favourites in South Africa and they are a top quality side in both batting and bowling. We have to be on our `A` game and capitalise on opportunities. They are beatable. We need to be discreet about the way we go about things," former captain Chris Gayle explained.

"The preparation has been good. We came from Sri Lanka, of course things didn`t go according to our plan but at the same time it is a big occasion and we want to get a winning start here", he said.

The teams:

South Africa: Graeme Smith (capt), Hashim Amla, Johan Botha, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Colin Ingram, Jacques Kallis, Morne Morkel, Wayne Parnell, Robin Peterson, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Morne van Wyk.

West Indies: Darren Sammy (capt), Kirk Edwards, Devon Thomas, Sulieman Benn, Darren Bravo, Dwayne Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Chris Gayle, Nikita Miller, Kieron Pollard, Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach, Andre Russell, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Devon Smith.

Umpires: Simon Taufel (Australia) and Amish Saheba (India). Third Umpire: Asoka de Silva (Sri Lanka).

Match Referee: Jeff Crowe (New Zealand)

Match starts at 2.30 pm (IST).

PTI