Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada will both play in South Africa’s World Cup opener against England on May 30. Despite injuries to both quicks that cut short their IPL stints, that was the message from coach Ottis Gibson as South Africa embarked on a week-long camp ahead of their departure for England on May 19.
“There was an issue with KG [Rabada] and there was an issue with Dale, but we feel that those guys are on track,” Gibson said. “There’s nothing that people should be alarmed about. They’re going to both make full recoveries and be able to take their place at the World Cup.”
A World Cup squad that had members spread across South Africa, England and India reconnected in Cape Town on Tuesday, taking a team hike up Table Mountain. Despite the beginnings of a winter chill in the Cape air, it was a tranquil setting for the squad to reconvene in. Likewise, Gibson cut a serene figure – no doubt buoyed by the knowledge that he will have his two best quicks in the team come May 30.
“Excellent” was the word Gibson used to describe the mood in his camp. “We’ve been away from each other, all over the world and so on,” he said. “To have everybody back is awesome. The fact that the guys who played in the IPL final also turned up in good health is also very nice.
“One thing I really enjoy about this group is, when we come together, we really come together. There was all sorts of ‘bromance’ and hugging and people connecting with each other going on last night. We waited for the IPL guys to get off the plane about 4 O’clock yesterday, and we had a nice little session. We went for a team meal last night and got together and started our conversations around how we’re going to approach the World Cup journey.”
Traditionally, South Africa start their World Cup journeys in world-beating form as tournament favourites. Traditionally, that hasn’t ended well, but Gibson insisted that his side is making a “fresh start” without the weight of history or expectation on their shoulders.
“What’s in the past is gone,” he said. “We’re not taking the past with us to this World Cup. It’s a new adventure for us.
“At the end of the day, you’re playing the same cricket you played against Sri Lanka a couple of months ago and Pakistan before that. We’re not building it up to be anything other than what it is. It’s still cricket.”
Despite the good news about Steyn and Rabada, there are still some unresolved issues in Gibson’s team. One of them is the form of Hashim Amla, who will take an ODI average of 56.73 in England with him into the World Cup, but who, after a mini-resurgence against Pakistan, suffered another form slump at the end of the season. Amla even went as far as stepping away from the Cape Cobras set-up midway through the CSA T20 Challenge, looking to clear his mind and get back to his best, and has been working with batting coach Dale Benkenstein. But even here, Gibson sees “no real dramas”.
“Hash just wanted to get away from the T20 bubble of trying to hit every ball,” Gibson said. “Obviously he wasn’t scoring big runs, so he felt like that was hampering his own preparation and his mindset of playing in England. We felt it was important to give him the space to do that. There was no real dramas of removing him from that T20 atmosphere.”
While South Africa are flying under the radar into this World Cup, there has been a lot of focus on hosts England and Gibson didn’t mask his pleasure that the spotlight is on the hosts, rather than his side. He also backed fellow Barbadian Jofra Archer to feature in England’s World Cup plans, saying the allrounder would add “some spice” to the home attack.
“They’re the favourites, aren’t they?” Gibson said. “Everybody’s talking about them as favourites. I recall Jimmy Anderson saying some time ago that they’ll have to do something terrible not to win the World Cup, which is good for them. They’re still playing well. They’ve got a good thing going.
“For us, to play the No. 1 team in the world, the favourite in the tournament, in their own country as well, in the first game, is great for us because it gives us a feeling of where we are as a team. We’re not the favourites anymore. Normally we’ve gone as the favourites and it’s not gone so well, so we’re happy to fly a little bit under the radar and produce our best on the pitch.
“Jofra Archer will add some spice to their attack, no doubt. I can’t see how they’re not going to pick him to be honest. Which is obviously good for him. He’s a guy from my hometown, from Barbados, so I’d be very pleased to see him putting on an England shirt and playing in the World Cup. We’re looking forward to that game.”
Perhaps, the only issue that might seem to grate Gibson was how much preparation time he has been given with his team. While England and Australia had pulled all of their players out of the IPL by May 1, key members of South Africa’s squad remained in India until the very end, with Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir and Quinton de Kock all playing in the final – despite Gibson’s request that they come home early.
“In an ideal world, we’d like to be perhaps playing some games now,” he said. “We’ve got three days in Pretoria where we’ll be doing some skills-specific stuff and then when we get to England those two [warm-up] games give us our only match preparation going into the World Cup, so we’ll have to use them to get a lot of guys up to speed.
“In an ideal world, we would have wanted more time. We tried to get more, but it wasn’t possible, so we have to work with what we have.”
Liam Brickhill is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.