Talk of ‘choking’ annoys Kirsten

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Gary Kirsten may have learnt his cricket under the tutelage of Duncan Fletcher, but he is no carbon copy of the coach that took him under his wing since Kirsten’s student days at the University of Cape Town.

Instead of the suspicious demeanour of all things media that Fletcher projects behind the shades (also the title of his autobiography), Kirsten almost always sports an inviting smile at press conferences.

However, at the announcement of the Proteas’ 15-man squad for the ICC Champions Trophy at Newlands on Thursday, even Kirsten could not help but frown, with the lines around his eyes hardening up, when the inevitable question was posed about how South Africa would handle the extra pressure at yet another major ICC tournament. The Proteas have gone 15 years without success at a multi-team tournament, suffering some catastrophic exits during the intervening years.

“That’s the most asked question in South African cricket, and the only way I can answer that is that we have to cross the (winner’s) line,” said Kirsten firmly, before finding that contagious smile again.

“It’s something we are aware of and the less you people (the media) talk about it, the less pressure there will be on us to win a trophy.

“Everybody asks ‘what’s the plan, how you going to solve the scarring?’ The bottom line is that there is no fancy technique, you must just go out there and get on with it and do it. I believe that the players we have selected have the ability to make a contribution in the most severe of conditions. Everyone of us has not coped with something due to mental fragility, but that is no excuse. We are aware of that responsibility and we will do everything in our power to cross that line,” India’s World Cup winning coach added.

Kirsten will, though, embark on this mission without his chief foot soldier Jacques Kallis. Cricket South Africa confirmed earlier reports in The Star that Kallis, 37, will miss the eight-team jamboree in the United Kingdom due to “personal reasons” despite Kirsten being in constant negotiations with the star all-rounder in the leadup to yesterday’s squad announcement.

But every dark cloud is accompanied by a rainbow, and the Proteas’ one came in the form of JP Duminy, with the classy left-hander returning to the side after a six-month absence due to a horror Achilles injury suffered on South Africa’s Test tour of Australia last November.

“It is big blow (Kallis’ absence) but this team has progressed to a level that we are comfortable with whoever plays,” said Kirsten.

“It does affect our combinations because Kallis is two players in one, but if he feels he is not ready for the tournament then we have to respect that,” he added before commenting on Duminy’s return: “We are all excited about where he is (in terms of his rehab). He is a key component of the team and, although we are not putting too much pressure on him to play, he has progressed well.”

Duminy on Thursday that he should be ready for South Africa’s two warm-up games. The Proteas face the Netherlands (May 31 in Amsterdam) and Pakistan (June 3 at The Oval in London) before the much-anticipated tournament opener against world champions India at Cardiff’s SophiaGardens on June 6.

“I am ecstatic to be back in the green and gold,” Duminy said while modelling South Africa’s new one-day kit. “I have been out for a long time and it has almost made me appreciate again what it means to pull on this shirt. When you on the road as much as we are, it sometimes becomes routine, but it is almost like a new beginning of sorts for me, and I am really hungry to play.”

Apart from Kallis and Duminy, the squad closely resembles the team that beat Pakistan 3-2 in the recent home one-day series. There was no place for young Highveld Lions wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock, although selection convenor Andrew Hudson said the 20-year-old would be monitored closely in the off-season should the situation arise that he is required as an emergency replacement.

The reasoning behind De Kock’s omission is that Kirsten believes the eight specialist batsmen selected could be South Africa’s trumpcard at the Champions Trophy.

“We decided to opt for continuity which meant we could go with established players,” Kirsten said.

“The experience helps the players to cope with the demands of the game while flair is especially important in a knock-out event. That’s why we’re going with eight batsmen so that we have something different to offer.”

PROTEAS SQUAD

AB de Villiers (capt, wk), Hashim Amla, Farhaan Behardien, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Colin Ingram, Rory Kleinveldt, Ryan McLaren, David Miller, Morné Morkel, Robin Peterson, Aaron Phangiso, Graeme Smith, Dale Steyn, Lonwabo Tsotsobe.