Graeme Smith

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SA are seen as one of the favourites

The ICC Champions Trophy is our first competition after a long, and well-deserved break, from international cricket. The boys are rested, refreshed, in-form and raring to go especially if our 200-run win over the West Indies in a warm-up the other day is anything to go by.

 

Many of the teams have already played a few internationals and India and Australia will be coming into the tournament with wins under their belts, and so will be feeling very confident.

 

I know South Africa are seen as one of the favourites, but that is not something we will be focusing on. We do have some things in our favour though - we are going in as the top team in both ODIs and Tests and the fact that we are familiar with the conditions may give us a slight edge over the others.

 

We play our first match against Sri Lanka, who have not had a good run recently. So that will perhaps be another thing going for us as teams from the sub-continent are not really comfortable with South African conditions. What may make it harder for Sri Lanka to adjust is the fact that they have not played an ODI in South Africa since the 2003 ICC World Cup.

 

Having said that, however, we have to keep in mind that Sri Lanka have a formidable batting and bowling line-up, and that they do well in multi-team tournaments - they reached the finals of both the 2007 ICC World Cup and the ICC World Twenty20 this year.

 

In the recent tri-series, where New Zealand and India were the other teams, Thilan Samaraweera and Thilina Kandamby stood out for them, and if they, Kumar Sangakkara and Sanath Jayasuriya, who can really anchor an innings, dig their heels in, Sri Lanka can really make an impact. Plus they have Murali back from injury and he's always raring to go. And he is part of the "Four M's" of the tough Sri Lankan bowling attack, the others being Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews and Ajantha Mendis - all of them dangerous on their day.

 

I am happy with the composition of our team, though. It is a well-balanced side with a fine mix of experience and young, exciting talent. We have the best-allrounder in the world in Kallis, the best Test bowler in Dale Steyn, and AB de Villers, who is one of our most consistent players. Amongst the youngsters we have Van der Merwe, Parnell, Duminy and Amla, who have all done well, and Johan Botha was a revelation last season.

 

We have good bowling options - the right-hand, left-hand pace of Steyn and Parnell, and the right-arm, left-arm spin of Van der Merwe. Besides, we also have a deep batting line-up, and if the openers give the team a good start, it will take the pressure of the likes of Kallis, Boucher, Gibbs, De Villiers and Duminy who can then take us to a very competitive total.

 

I know we have not won a major tournament since the ICC Champions Trophy in Bangladesh in 1998, but this is not putting any more pressure on us. As I've said before we can only focus on the job at hand, and do the best we can on the day. We also have England and New Zealand in our group, and though they have not had the best of outings in ODIs recently, we will not be taking then for granted. We will take it one match at a time, concentrate on topping the group and getting to the semi-finals, which is our first aim.

 

I know this is not a gala event like the World Cup, or a glamour event like the IPL, but we are still approaching this with all the seriousness that an ICC tournament deserves. We may not have played an ODI in nearly five months, but after that win over the West Indies, no one can say we are rusty. In fact, it seems like we have never been away, and that is the attitude that we are going to carry into, what will hopefully, turn out to be another very successful season for us. (GAMEPLAN)

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