Justin Ontong of the Cobras during day 1 of the Sunfoil Series 2017/18 Cricket match between the Cobras and the Warriors at Newlands Cricket Ground, Cape Town on the 16 October 2017 ©Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

“Our goal is to be the best fielding team going into the World Cup.”

That was Justin Ontong’s frank statement from Cardiff on Wednesday, where South Africa are preparing for their first warm-up game against Sri Lanka at Sophia Gardens on Friday.

Ontong, who is the national team’s fielding coach, certainly has a tough task ahead of him if the Proteas are to achieve those lofty standards.

Having previously been the trendsetters with regards to athleticism, superior catching and general neatness in the field, the South Africans have slipped down the pecking order over the last couple of years.

With the advent of high-intensity T20 cricket, and the drastic upgrading of outfields on the sub-continent, it is now teams like India that lead the way.

Ontong, though, would like to see the Proteas reclaim their status, and is certainly putting his charges through their paces.

“South Africa has always been in the top three teams in the world when it comes to fielding. Going into this World Cup, all teams are on par.

“It is about taking your opportunities when they are presented to you. That’s going to be really important. We are always working hard as a fielding unit,” Ontong said.

For all the drama of South Africa’s exit at the last World Cup after the epic semi-final in Auckland, there were two significant moments that stood out during New Zealand’s successful chase.

The missed run out from AB de Villiers – when the former skipper failed to cleanly gather a throw-in from Rillee Rossouw – and of course the terrible mix-up between JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien in the penultimate over.

With memories likes these to fall back on, Ontong is preparing his fielding unit to seize the moment when indeed it will arrive again over the course of the next two months.

“Our preparation has been really good,” Ontong said. “We are focusing on our catching. As we get closer to the game, the guys will get tuned in.

“If you look at previous World Cups, there have always been defining moments in games.

“So, we know about those big moments. From my point of view, I try and prepare the guys to be ready for that.

“Everyone is very excited to be here. We had 10 days of preparation. We can’t wait for the tournament to start.

“From a coaching staff point, you are obviously focusing on individual preparation, just topping up everyone so they are ready to go.

“Making sure everyone is happy. It’s about getting really close as a team going into that first game.

“It is a long tournament, so it’s about making sure everyone is on the same page.”

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