TELFORD VICE, Sydney
AB de Villiers has had enough: “There’s enough laughing, there’s enough stress, there’s enough nerves, there’s enough good cricket, there’s enough bad cricket. We’ve just got to find a way to win.”
SA’s World Cup quarter-final against Sri Lanka at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) today is that kind of game – go big, go medium or go small, but don’t go home.
And that wasn’t where De Villiers’ straight talk ended. Instead, it got straighter.
“We are not going to choke,” he said. “We are just going to play a good game of cricket and come out on top. Simple.”
Really? If it was “simple” South Africans wouldn’t wonder why their team have tripped over the first knockout hurdle five times in six World Cups. The other time they didn’t even get that far.
But there is no doubting the power De Villiers’ words. At least, they will be powerful if his team puts their performance where their captain’s mouth was on Tuesday. If they don’t this will be just another SA side who came, saw and were conquered.
What with SA having struggled whenever they have been under pressure at the tournament, crashing to defeat against India and Pakistan, they will have a game on their hands against the nonchalantly aggressive Sri Lankans.
The notion sparked defiance in De Villiers: “No-one is going to ask us if we played exceptional cricket when we win the World Cup – they’re just going to say that we won the Cup.”
As serious as De Villiers sounded, he looked more relaxed than he has done since Pakistan taught SA a lesson in Auckland almost two weeks ago.
He arrived for Tuesday’s press conference wearing flipflops – a sure sign that SA were not training. On Monday the squad enjoyed a what De Villiers termed a “lekker team dinner” on social media. A video of Wayne Parnell interviewing a jovial Russell Domingo on his chances of playing today was in similar vein. “‘Parney’ will be in the mix,” Domingo said through a healthy laugh.
“It was important not to focus too much on cricket (on Tuesday), sort of get the brain switched off a little bit before the big clash,” De Villiers said. “It’s important for us to be fresh. I believe we play really good cricket when we feel fresh and we are mentally fresh. We just play those special situations so much better.”
Again, the proof of that pudding will be in its eating.
Even the prospect of a parallel duel with Kumar Sangakkara could not lure De Villiers off his chosen path: “Don’t take it the wrong way but I couldn’t care less about him or me – I just want to win the game. If our No. 11 batsman wins us the game, so be it. I just want to find a way to win.”
But, as right as he would like to be about most of the above, De Villiers was wrong when he said the toss would not be important.
“Lots of games have been won by the team batting second here, and the team batting first. It’s pretty even. I’m not too worried about that.”
Of the 137 completed day-night games played at the SCG, 81 have been won by the team batting first and 56 by the chasers.
Win the toss. That may be enough.