Harare – The Harare Sports Club is the scenic backdrop for an iconic image that vividly illustrated Australia as the dominant force in world cricket of the previous two decades.
Crouched like hunters closing in on their prey in the African bush, Steve Waugh and eight of his Australian teammates are all fielding in the slip cordon awaiting an edge during an ODI against Zimbabwe back in 1999.
Stand-in leader George Bailey in the absence of current Australian captain Michael Clarke spared their hosts such embarrassment in the Tri-Series opener here yesterday, but the ruthlessness of the display was of a similar ilk.
Regardless of the fact that the 198-run winning margin set a new record for the Aussies in contests with Zimbabwe, the clinical nature of the performance confirmed Australia’s status as the No1-ranked team on the ICC ODI table.
And after a few rather languid sparring contests with their southern African neighbours over the past fortnight here, it is this type of intensity that the Proteas must match, and better, when they come face-to-face with their arch-rivals at the same venue tomorrow.
“It’s a big triangular for us. Obviously Australia are No1, and it always is nice (to play against the best). That is the pinnacle of cricket. We want to play against the best teams in the world. It is not going to be an easy one.
“They’ve been playing really good one-day cricket,” said Proteas all-rounder JP Duminy at training yesterday in response to the gauntlet being laid down before focusing on his own team’s preparations.
“We’re coming off after a good series against Zimbabwe and our tails will be a little bit up, but we know it will be a lot of hard work ahead of us and we are looking forward to the challenge.”
Duminy’s role in the Proteas team has certainly grown exponentially over the last 12 months, especially in terms of a leadership role he now occupies as part of a new senior core of players that have taken over the mantle from the likes of Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis. It has certainly had a positive effect on the 30-year-old’s personal performances, especially in the Test arena where Duminy has struck two centuries in crucial victories.
This has not quite yet spilled over to the ODI format as yet, although that is more due to his limited-opportunities trying to “finish” off the innings when the team objective is greater than any personal statistics.
However, there are not many cricketers who can call back on positive performances against the mighty Australians as motivation, but Duminy’s history against the men from Down Under could just be the tonic for this series.
“Australia is always a good challenge and like I said you want to challenge yourself against the best. It has been going well but you don’t want to take anything for granted. All I can control is my preparation, and work hard because what happens out in the middle happens,” a philosophical Duminy explained.
South Africa were close to a full squad yesterday after a couple of days “fishing and just basically hibernating” with star batsman Hashim Amla, who was rested for last ODI in Bulawayo, returning to the squad straight bang in the middle of an intense fitness session. The only squad member still to arrive is left-arm seamer Mthokozisi Shezi – a late replacement for the injured Beuran Hendricks – but he is expected in camp today.
Coach Russell Domingo, along with his assistants Adrian Birrell and Allan Donald, certainly lifted the tempo yesterday at the Harare Country Club with high-paced fielding drills and an elongated net session.
Pacemen Morné Morkel and Dale Steyn certainly loosened their limbs with a ferocious onslaught at “Gerricke” – the cut-out figurine of a batsman that travels with the team all over the world.
The Proteas would not have watched the mauling of Zimbabwe yesterday, but they have certainly received the message that they need to raise the level of their performance here tomorrow. - The Star