In the shadows of Durham Castle, with the River Wear flowing gently by, South African captain AB de Villiers did his best to assure the gathered inquirers that his side had some renewed freshness ahead of the three-match Twenty20 series against England.
“Freshness” has become De Villiers’ favourite word these past few weeks as he tries to force himself to forget about the fact that he and a number of the players still with him on this tour remain keen for the battles that await.
It’s been more than nine weeks since they went to Switzerland for some tough work in the mountains with explorer Mike Horn.
Hashim Amla’s historic feat at The Oval came seven weeks ago, but already seems a distant memory, and for many of the players there is still a three more – and if they make the final of the World T20 – four weeks left on the road.
It’s a brutal schedule but De Villiers won’t accept fatigue as an excuse. If anyone should be ready to collapse, it is him, having played in all the international matches, kept wicket and captained in the limited overs formats.
“I’m fresh and ready to go, I’m enjoying the game more than ever, I’m loving the challenge of the captaincy and having the gloves. It’s keeping me busy and on my toes. I believe it brings out the best in me,” he said, the words sounding bubbly, though the tone with which they were delivered was understandably weary.
“You can almost see the finish line now, which is a positive thing, even though we’ve been here now for a while and some of the guys are feeling a bit mentally tired. This format really energises you, you’re only there for three hours on the park and then you’re home again.” Or in the SA team’s case, another hotel again.
First there’s a series win to attain in three matches against Stuart Broad’s team, but the more important task awaits in Sri Lanka, where they’ll again be looking to get the ICC tournament monkey off their backs at the World T20.
Unlike his teammate Johan Botha – one of the “new” faces in the side – who reckons there are similarities between the slower pitches seen in England in the latter stages of the season and what will be on offer in Sri Lanka, De Villiers believes conditions will be different. “That is one of the worries, because conditions are very different in Sri Lanka,” he said. “But it’s still a cricket game and we are all professional enough to adapt to different conditions and situations. I believe we’ve covered all those bases with the kind of squad we’ve picked. We’ve got enough spinners, and seamers, good back-up among the batsmen. We’ll try a few combinations in this series, and then it’s on to the World Cup.”
One of the combinations they’ll be experimenting with, will be at the top of the order where, with the return of Jacques Kallis, South Africa have a couple of options to partner in-form Hashim Amla. Initially at least, Richard Levi – he of the 117 against New Zealand earlier this year – will walk out first, with Kallis likely to slot in at No 3.
South Africa have won three of the five T20 matches played between the two sides.
Today: 1st T20, England v SA, Durham, 3.30pm SA time
Monday: 2nd T20, England v SA, Old Trafford, 7.30pm
Wednesday: 3rd T20, England v SA, Edgbaston, 7.30pm – Saturday Star