Pat Cummins is not known to play mind games before big matches but the Australia ODI skipper couldn’t resist giving South Africa a not-so-subtle reminder about their choking history before their World Cup semi-final showdown.
South Africa have famously earned a bit of a reputation for choking in the event, having never got past the semis, and if they’re feeling weighed down by history, Cummins was perfectly happy to remind them of previous failings.
“We feel lucky that we’ve been in these situations quite a bit, a lot of our players. So, you know what it takes, but also, you’re not really weighed down by history,” he said.
“You get more excited about the challenge and just get stuck into what needs to be done. So, hard to speak on their behalf, but I do know each World Cup, it does seem to be the story that South Africa haven’t quite achieved what they set out to do.”
Referring to how Australia knocked out South Africa in the 1999 semi-finals after the chaos of Allan Donald’s last-over run-out at Edgbaston, Cummins could only smile: “It’s kind of folklore, isn’t it? I’ve seen that replay heaps of times.”
Cummins is backing Australia’s big match nous – not to mention one freak cricketer – to transport them to another World Cup final.
The Australian captain, who’s overseen seven straight victories as his side has powered towards their last-four encounter with South Africa, pointed out his side holds an advantage in experience over a Proteas side who’ve already beaten them in this tournament and in a warm-up series.
“What helps us is we’ve got a lot of guys that have been in this situation before that have won one-day World Cup, T20 World Cup, various other tournaments in big moments,” Cummins told reporters in Kolkata on Wednesday.
There are seven in his squad – Cummins himself, David Warner, Steve Smith, Mitch Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood – who have been part of two World Cup triumphs – in 2015 as well as the T20 victory two years ago.
Of those – all in sharp form – Maxwell is the one who can inhabit another plane, as his double hundred against Afghanistan in Mumbai demonstrated.
Asked how watching that innings had made Australia feel, Cummins conceded: “As a team, you grow an extra leg because you feel like you can win a match from anywhere and having someone like Maxi in your team is just a complete luxury.
“He’s a superstar, he’s a freak.”
Cummins warned his side would be a very different proposition to those the South Africans faced in Lucknow a month ago and also in the pre-tournament series won 3-2 by the Proteas in September.
“South Africa are a team we’ve played quite a lot and know quite well but this week it’s probably going to be quite different to say the South African series that we just played against them a couple of months ago,” said Cummins.
(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
As for his side’s form, the 30-year-old skipper Cummins enthused: “We’ve come a long way since the start of the tournament, got better as a team since then.
“We are a bit more aggressive with our batting, we are taking the game on a bit more. With the bowling, I think we’ve just got better and better in all phases.
“We’ve obviously played a lot of cricket over the last month and it just feels like everyone knows their role and it’s starting to click.”
South Africa will make a late judgement over captain Temba Bavuma, who admitted he was not 100 per cent fit for his side’s World Cup semi-final showdown.
Bavuma, who has registered 145 runs at 20.71 in the tournament, injured his hamstring in the Proteas’ win over Afghanistan in their final group stage encounter last week.
While Bavuma is optimistic of leading his side out and opening the batting on Thursday as South Africa look to reach the final for the first time in their history, the final decision will not be his alone.
“Physically I feel alright,” he said on the eve of the match in Kolkata on Wednesday.
“Obviously not 100 per cent. This day becomes important in terms of a decision about tomorrow. I’m quite confident but it’s not a unilateral decision that will be made.
“I’m obviously a bit nervous of the game. It will be our first semi-final and as a team. But I think the feeling is no different I guess from any game that we’ve encountered within the World Cup.
“You want to treat it as just another game. It’s something that I’ll be looking forward to. It’s something that I’ll savour in that moment. I know it will mean a lot for family and people back home.”
Bavuma’s fellow opener Quinton de Kock will retire from ODIs once South Africa’s involvement is over and he is going out in a blaze of glory with four centuries during the group stage.
“Quinton has been magnificent for us, being our leading run-scorer,” Bavuma added. “At one point he was the leading World Cup scorer as well, so I think that speaks volumes in itself.
“Knowing Quinton, I don’t think he’s really paying much attention to all of that. I think his focus is really on contributing as best as he can for the team.”