“I haven’t thought about that very often. All I can say is we’re not going to choke,” AB de Villiers promised on Tuesday (March 17) afternoon, a day before South Africa take on Sri Lanka in the opening quarterfinal of the 2015 World Cup. “We’re just going to play a good game of cricket tomorrow and come out on top. Simple.”
It’s a cross South Africa must carry till such time that they actually manage to pull off a victory in a knockout game at the World Cup, and even that might not suffice. In five attempts at the quarterfinals or the semifinals of the World Cup since 1992, South Africa haven’t won even once. Wednesday gives them a great chance to set that record straight.
“We don’t mind putting focus on that,” said South Africa’s captain of their inability to crack the knockout puzzle. “We haven’t focussed on that because I don’t think it’s important to focus on what’s happened in the past. I believe it’s most important for us to be fresh as a cricket team tomorrow and play a good game of cricket. I personally haven’t put a lot of emphasis on what happened in 1999 and 2003, 2007. What’s important is we play quarterfinals of the World Cup tomorrow. I believe there’s a lot of different things that we believe in in this cricket team that maybe was different in the past. We can’t focus on what happened back in the day. We just can work with what we have right now. I’m the captain of the team and I want to lead by example, and I believe the guys will follow.”
De Villiers is one of those guys that doesn’t expect of his team what he himself will not do. “It’s partly my responsibility as a captain to lead the way that I want the boys to go out there, the way that I show energy together with a few senior players around me and the language we use, the kind of energy we show when we walk out,” he observed. “The things we do and the way we lead will make it easy for the rest of the guys to follow. I really believe that myself and a few of the senior players know how to play these kind of games in the pressure situations. We’ve done it before, and there’s no reason why we can’t do it tomorrow. It’s a matter for the rest of them to follow. We’ll have a few chats tonight. I’ve got to lead by example as a captain, and I believe the guys will follow.”
South Africa are the No. 1 Test team in the world, but time might be running out for a generation of players, among them Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn, to win the World Cup. “The guys are very aware of what’s happening, and where we’re at in this tournament,” de Villiers conceded. “We know exactly what’s coming tomorrow. It’s an important game. It’s exactly what we’ve been working [towards] for the last two to three years. It comes down to tomorrow. We’re very prepared for this, just ready to go. Obviously there’s history to be made, and if we do come through this, it’ll be great. But we know it’s important to come out there tomorrow and just to focus on the basics and do a few things right in order for us to win. All our focus will be on that.”
De Villiers chose to look inwards going into the game, trying to take Sri Lanka out of the equation. “We’ve just got to try and play a good game of cricket. It’s important to focus on what we’ve been doing well and try and do that tomorrow. We have certain strengths that we like to focus on, and not focus too much on the opposition. That’s as simple as possible. Strike with the new ball, try and bowl them out, and if we bat first, try and get a big total and put them under pressure.
“I’m not sure how much of an advantage it is to win the toss and bat first. I don’t know yet. It’s pretty even stats, I think, chasing and batting first. You saw Sri Lanka chasing really well the other night there (against Australia). Lots of games have been won by the team batting second here, as well, and the team batting first. It’s pretty even. I’m not too worried about that. Whatever happens tomorrow, we’ll just try and adjust as quickly as possible, whether we bat or bowl first, and try and find a way to run through them if we bowl first, and if we don’t, try and find a way to post a big total.”
In some quarters, this is being billed as a contest between de Villiers and Kumar Sangakkara, but the South African captain didn’t pay much heed to that, or to Maithripala Sirisena, the Sri Lankan president, addressing his team over Skype on Monday and asking them to watch out specifically for de Villiers. “I don’t know about that,” he smiled, “but I believe they’ve got to watch out for all XI playing tomorrow. To be very honest with you, and I hope you don’t take it in the wrong way, I couldn’t care less about him (Sangakkara) or me. I just want to win the game of cricket tomorrow. If it’s our No. 11 batsman that wins us the game, so be it. I just want to find a way to win.”