Proteas must focus on mental preparation, warns former bowling Vincent Barnes ahead of their semi-final clash against India. AFP

Dhaka – Former Proteas bowling coach Vincent Barnes says “everything should be focused on mental preparation” ahead of South Africa’s World Twenty20 semi-final against India on Friday.

Barnes, who spent eight and a half years with the national team culminating his term after the 2011 World Cup exit here in the Bangladeshi capital, was involved in two semi-finals at major International Cricket Council tournaments in St Lucia at the 2007 World Cup and at Nottingham in the 2009 World T20.

“It (the semi-final) now becomes a complete mental game,” Barnes said in Dhaka, where he is attending an ICC seminar on the growth of women’s cricket in his current post as Cricket South Africa’s high-performance manager.

“There is no doubt your skills will be tested, but it is more about how to deal with the pressure. You can go to the nets and work on some skills, but your biggest challenge is how you deal with it mentally.”

South Africa’s record at ICC tournaments over the years consists of numerous disappointments at this highly pressurised stage.

Numerous theories have been put forward as to why the Proteas have failed at these crucial junctures, but with Barnes having been inside the camp in the build-up to these matches, he is able to offer personal insight to what has happened previously.

“I remember in 2011 here in Dhaka. It wasn’t a semi-final, but a quarter-final actually against New Zealand. It was our first knockout game after having played so well, in fact bowled very well in the tournament thus far. We had the worst net that we’ve ever had the day before the game,” Barnes said frankly.

“Morné (Morkel) had bowled a brand new ball out of the nets and Dale was nowhere.

“There was a bit of uncertainty in the camp with Dale only just coming back from injury and Morné had been rested for the previous game and Lopsy (Lonwabo Tsotsobe) and Wayne (Parnell) had come in and done well, so the guys didn’t quite know if they were going to play. The important thing for me was to get them mentally prepared, and not physically.

“We stopped practising that day and the first thing we had to do was to let them know they were playing, get that out of the way. I then spoke to Henning Gericke, our ‘kop doctor’ at the time, and he called them into the changeroom, had a good chat with both of them and they both came back smiling and I knew then they were ready. We bowled really well against New Zealand the next day, keeping them to under 230 with nine wickets down. It is just a pity that we didn’t get across the line.

“In 2009 in England, it was the best we have ever been prepared, we were just so calm and precise, but the maverick factor of Shahid Afridi was just too good on the day.”

Barnes, though, believes the current Proteas team, having come through some tough and close encounters in the group stages, have put the building blocks in place to achieve what no previous South African team has done in 16 years – qualify for a major ICC tournament final.

“We know it is the knockout stage and everything that has gone before will come up over and over this week. But from a player and management group perspective, they would have known about this and be prepared for it.

“They’ve played some really tough cricket, and got through by not even playing their best cricket yet. I actually called Russell (Domingo) before I came here and said to him that the good games are still to come.

“England was a good game, but there is more to come from this group of players who can step up when it matters,” Barnes said.

“In Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Immy was our best bowler in that Pakistan series. The four overs he bowled were like gold.

“It’s the same here in Bangladesh. He has to feel that you back him. That’s how I know him.

“If he feels he has 10 people behind him, he will perform. It’s just how he is wired. A massive confidence player. We’ve seen his fantastic results in this tournament.

“He is the unsung hero of this Proteas bowling attack.” - The Star