There is no such thing as a dead-rubber against Australia. That’s according to out-going Proteas legend Imran Tahir ahead of his final ODI for South Africa here at Old Trafford.
The Proteas may be in the departure lounge at this World Cup, and Australia assured of their semi-final place already, but much like when the All Blacks and the Springboks clash at the end of the Rugby Championship, this final round-robin World Cup clash holds gravitas.
The fact that disgraced Australian duo Steve Smith and David Warner will be facing the Proteas since serving their bans for cheating will add even further spice to occasion.
“When we play against Australia it is always an extra boost because obviously they are known to play good cricket. They obviously give you a good fight, and that boosts everyone. We all want to do well against Australia,” Tahir, who is retiring from the 50-overs format, said.
“Previous records show that we are the team that beat Australia most – more than any other team in Australia. When you know you playing against top opposition, you have to come up with your “A-game”, otherwise you are going to be on the losing side. It is always exciting playing against them.”
The Aussies will not be short of motivation either. A victory over the Proteas will solidify their position at the top of the log, allowing Aaron Finch’s team to remain in Manchester for the first semi-final on Tuesday where they will most likely face Trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand.
Pakistan face a near-impossible challenge to dislodge the Black Caps from fourth position in their final league match against Bangladesh on Friday. Lose and they will have to travel to Birmingham where hosts England lay in wait.
Equally, the Aussies have every reason to exact revenge over the Proteas. Where they were once the dominant force in the engaging rivalry between the two sport-loving nations, it is in fact South Africa that holds the upper-hand over the last decade.
The Proteas have recorded a hat-trick of Test series victories Down Under, whitewashed the Aussies 5-0 in a bilateral ODI series for the first time ever, broke the duck in a home Test series post-isolation and triumphed in the most recent ODI series in Australia.
With this at the back of the mind, proudly Australian coach Justin Langer is certainly not letting his charge ease up.
"For this game, some people said it was a dead rubber. There's nothing dead about it," the former Aussie Test opener stressed. "There's no way we'll ever get complacent. Not with what's happened the last 12 months. I cannot talk for the players and there will be different motivations for them. But for us, this game is about getting two points. It has taken a lot of hard work from where we came from in Cape Town. It was one of the great crises in Australian cricket; a lot of heartache, certainly a lot of pain. We're playing good cricket, so we want to continue the momentum of winning going forward. That's really important for us."