TELFORD VICE in London
IF you were at South Africa’s training session at New Malden outside London on Thursday you wouldn’t have guessed the clock was ticking ever more loudly towards another attempt to get the monkey off their backs.
The players ambled off the team bus and through the gate of the sprawling suburban facility – which also serves as the Fulham football academy, a base for the London School of Economics cricket team, and a training facility for Surrey – with the air of men trying, not too hard, to walk off Sunday lunch.
They smiled and waved hellos to familiar faces as they went, gathered on the field, and seemed content to hang about to see what would happen.
Hashim Amla paused to exchange warm greetings and a hearty chat with friends made during his time with Surrey in the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
On an oval a hundred or so metres away an under-11 match was on the go – the kit white, the ball red, the players pinkening from an unusually intense sun.
If there was any pressure to be felt it might have been by those kids wondering how they were going to explain to their parents why they hadn’t applied enough sunblock.
Among the South Africans, the thought that the world was wondering out loud whether the 2017 Champions Trophy would end their trophy drought seemed not to carry any import. Perhaps it doesn’t.
“We don’t want to put extra pressure on ourselves [by] thinking that we need to win this tournament,” JP Duminy said.
“We definitely want to; I don’t think there’s any other team that wants it more.
“But I don’t feel like there’s added pressure.
“There’s always high expectation within the team, and my expectation on myself in terms of my performance is always high.
“That will never change.”
What does need to change is how South Africa handle the heat they do feel.
They won the inaugural International Cricket Council Knockout, which was called the Wills International Cup.
But that was in 1998. They have not reached a final of a World Cup, Champions Trophy of World T20 since.
“It’s those pressure moments that we identify to make sure we stay in that moment and don’t think too far ahead,” Duminy said.
“That’s what we’ve learnt over the last couple of weeks – to stay in the moment and [focus on] what is in front of you and not look too far ahead about the outcome of the game.
“Whether you’re a youngster, whether you’re a senior player I don’t think that changes.”
South Africa have spent those last couple of weeks going down to England in a one-day series, albeit that they recovered well from a poor start and seem to be over a rash of dropped catches.
“The results weren’t ideal but it’s in the past and our full focus is on what’s ahead,” Duminy said.
“The timing of the series was perfect in terms of preparation going into the Champions Trophy – adapting to conditions, understanding what’s good and what’s not in terms of batting and bowling in these conditions.”
For Duminy, the England tour marks a return to action after he withdrew from the Indian Premier League for unstated “personal reasons”.
The 68 he scored against Sussex at Hove on May 19 was his first half-century at any level and in any format in 15 completed innings.
He made 15 and 28 not out in the ODIs.
“I put in a lot of hard work in the six weeks I was off,” Duminy said.
“The main thing was to try and be mentally fresh for this tournament and what lies ahead on this tour.
“I’m feeling that I’ve achieved that.
“In terms of my skills there were one or two things I worked on that I felt needed a bit of work.”
Over on the adjoining oval the under-11s were hard at work at exactly that.