Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla will need to set the tone for the Proteas innings against India. Photo: Reuters

LONDONSouth Africa had an optional training day yesterday, in the scenic surrounds of Lord’s.

Only three turned up for that optional, but all around them, cricket HQ was a hive of urgent activity.

The sun came out in patches but, when it did, it bathed St John’s Wood in the most magnificent hue.

Adjacent to the indoor facility that the Proteas utilised, the village green ground played host to a golden oldies’ Champions Trophy festival of sorts.

When the Proteas cleared away, a litter of mini-cricket enthusiasts took over the indoor centre for a session, while another facility held cricket lessons for disabled children.

Inside the hallowed four walls of serious play, tours of the stadium chuntered on all day, while the groundsman meticulously prepared the strip for the Test between England and South Africa in a few weeks.

Everywhere, there was chatter, as well as an unspoken understanding of being somewhere totally elevated from any other spot on the cricket planet.

It was intriguing to observe, young and old going on with their own pursuits at either end of the cricket scale, all the while as the Proteas prepared for one of the biggest games of their careers.

The zen-like surrounds of cricketing HQ is exactly the mood that the Proteas are trying to approach Sunday’s definitive Champions Trophy clash against India with.

“You can take a knockout game a bit too seriously, because there is no insurance,” batting coach Neil McKenzie offered.

Neil McKenzie says it will come down to “who takes the initiative first” between the Proteas and India. Photo: Gavin Barker, BackpagePix

“We’ve been chatting over the past few months about keeping things exactly the same as any other game,” he continued, as he told of the dangers of players tightening up in a must-win affair.

There are few men who speak with a greater sense of calm than the meticulous McKenzie, and his batting unit must find similar calm amidst what will be a cacophony of Indian support tomorrow.

McKenzie admitted that they will have to soak that hysteria in, and then do what they must to silence it, or at least temporarily hush it.

“The guys are up for it, and the cricket that we’ve played over the last 18 months suggests that if we get our blueprint right, and play somewhere close to where we know can, we should come out on top,” the former international straight-batted.

India are a quality team, there are a lot of superstars in their side and our side, so it is down to who takes the initiative first.”

Indian spinner Ravindra Jadeja (centre) will be a serious threat to the Proteas middle-order. Photo: Reuters

It is as simple as a pair of heavyweights slugging at one another, each hoping that their blows will do more damage, cause more panic in the opposing ranks. “Everybody knows what everybody can do, and it’s down to who does it on the day,” McKenzie added on the matter of India using spin as a weapon.

“We know what Ashwin can do, and we know what Jadeja can do. A lot of the guys played with or against them in the IPL,” he pointed out.

That familiarity will be put to the test tomorrow, and one big nation will have to fold their hand prematurely at the cricket-poker table.

It’s the highest of stakes, and these dizzy occasions call for calm heads, the type usually found dotted around Lord’s on a daily basis.

The SA camp is confident skipper AB de Villiers will shake off his hamstring strain and lead the side tomorrow.


Independent on Saturday

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