We want to just focus on enjoying our cricket - Faf du Plessis - 5 minutes read
There is a World Cup at stake, but if South Africa are under any extra pressure, it won't be coming from inside their camp. As his team departs for a tournament where - for once - they won't start as one of the favourites, captain Faf du Plessis is not demanding anything extraordinary from them.
Rather, he believes that a focus on enjoyment and on sticking to what has worked for them after a home summer during which they won 11 out of 13 one-day internationals and beat Australia 2-1 away, will provide a formula for success.
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"In previous World Cups, we wanted to do Superman things," du Plessis said on the eve of South Africa's departure for England and Wales. "We thought we had to be more special, we had to do something more than we usually do, and we did not do what was good enough. We haven't always got that right in the past, to play our best cricket at the World Cup, because we put so much pressure on ourselves. We want to just focus on enjoying our cricket."
Seven members of South Africa's squad, including du Plessis, were part of the 2015 World Cup campaign, when the side crashed out with a four-wicket defeat to New Zealand in the semi-finals. Du Plessis, Hashim Amla, Imran Tahir, JP Duminy and Dale Steyn were also part of South Africa's team at the 2011 tournament, when they came off second best in another high-pressure encounter with New Zealand.
"We believed you had to be really special to win the World Cup, that you had to do something more than you usually do, which is not true," du Plessis said of previous campaigns. "Whatever we've been doing consistently, the way we've played while beating teams that will work. We have to do the basics as well as possible, teams don't win the World Cup by someone scoring a century off 50 balls or taking 7 for 20."
Du Plessis is a thinking captain, but he is also a feeling one. Rather than shying away from the pressures that come with international competition, he has urged his team to grapple with them in positive ways - and he hasn't been afraid to talk openly about the mental aspect of South Africa's game in the media either.
"We started a year or two ago with a real focus on mental preparation and, as a captain, I probably speak more about that than previous captains, but I really believe it's an area we can get better in," du Plessis said. "I've been there and I know the pressures, I understand how to deal with them. There's a reason why we want the guys to play freely - because we don't want them to have a fear of failure, which is what the World Cup is for some of them. Our success in England over the next couple of months depends on how well we release that aspect of our play - we need that for the team to be at our best. Each player needs to find out his own strengths.
"The players relate better to fellow players and I'm on the same level as the coach when it comes to the importance of the mental side. I'm a big believer in positive visualisation, how to remain calm, and I feel it has had value for my own game. So I can relate that to the players, how important it is to be present in the moment; for instance when there's been a dropped catch, there's nothing you can do about it and it's about how you change your mindset to make sure you are still strong mentally."
Du Plessis' pragmatic approach will also be seen in South Africa's selections during the tournament. He suggested that playing XIs would be picked on primarily on form, though he was also quick to point out that a player such as Amla, whose form - or lack thereof - has a been a major talking point in the lead-up to the World Cup, brings invaluable experience to the squad whether or not he is making runs.
"In terms of team selection, that's a call we will make when we get to that first game," du Plessis said. "We have two warm-up games. Generally, we want to pick on form. If we believe Hash is the guy with the best form for the first game then he will be picked. But if we feel there are other guys that are more in form [we will pick them]. Form does play a huge role in a long competition like this - so hopefully Hash can go into those warm-ups, and bang, bang two centuries in a row and then we can smile from there."
At 36, and with 174 ODIs under his belt, Amla is one of the most experienced members of South Africa's squad. He has played 18 of those ODIs in England, averaging 56.73, and has been part of two previous World Cup campaigns.
"As an experienced player, he is important in our squad and that was one of the key reasons he was picked," du Plessis said. "You cannot substitute experience. When I speak about the experience, I speak about experience having played in tournaments like the World Cup before. He understands what it means to play in a big tournament.
"Whether that means runs or not, no one can give us that guarantee. But it's just the calm composure Hashim has. Even if he doesn't play a game, just the knowledge and experience that he can share with someone like an Aiden Markram is something you can only get from a guy like Hashim. He can talk him through those first 10 overs, he has a lot of experience playing county cricket, so his experience is vital to the group."