South Africa's mental prep in full swing ahead of knockout

Neil McKenzie sought inspiration from the fact that South Africa had won seven of their last nine ODI series heading into the Champions Trophy © AFP

South Africa’s management is trying to keep the team calm ahead of the match against India on Sunday. South Africa’s defeat to Pakistan and India’s subsequent loss to Sri Lanka have made South Africa’s clash against India at The Oval a virtual quarter-final. And given South Africa’s history in knockout matches, the nerves are understandable, but batting coach Neil McKenzie said they’re trying to keep the belief high.

“Because there is no insurance, you can sometimes take a knockout game too seriously and put too much pressure on yourself,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of chats about keeping things exactly the same, being okay with the extra nerves but trusting your game-plan, trusting your blueprint and trusting the players that you’ve been playing with and been around for 18 months, doing well with.

“It’s okay to feel extra tension, but it shouldn’t be affecting your performances. We’ve tried to emphasise that our blueprint is good enough to beat any side. Our game plan is good enough to beat any side. It’s making sure we can execute that.”

McKenzie admitted the crunch moment has come sooner than South Africa would have liked, but said it is an opportunity to show what they have been working towards. “We were hoping [we would feel this] in a semi-final, but it has come one game early. All that we’ve put in place, and all our thinking and chats over the last 18 months has come a game early. It’s quite exciting for the management, and it’s all that we’ve been planning that we’ve got to be out there. Against India, a huge Indian crowd, you can’t get more pressure cooker than that, but we think we’re prepared.”

Despite losing to the tournament’s lowest-ranked side, South Africa are still the No.1 ODI team. They got there by winning seven of their last nine ODI series. That may count for nothing against India, but McKenzie said it was an indication of what they had done right. “The cricket we have been playing over the last 18 months suggests that if we get our blueprint right and we play somewhere where we know we can be, we should come up on top.”

The “blueprint” McKenzie referred to is the same one he believed has fashioned most wins this tournament. With sporting surfaces upfront, McKenzie believed the best way to approach an innings is “a solid foundation, then middle order needs to hit space, knock it around, set up that platform and then obviously try and cash in. Most teams have been getting 70s and 80s in the last 10. That’s normally our blueprint.”

South Africa failed to do that against Pakistan because the top order was rattled. Only David Miller, with some support from Chris Morris, lent the innings some gravitas. In particular, South Africa’s reticence against the spinners brought up a familiar weakness, but McKenzie said the familiarity of India’s spinners should aid them.

“Both squads are blessed with a lot of variation – we are talking about Ashwin to our left-handers in the middle stages, but everybody knows what everybody can do. We know what Ashwin and Jadeja do. A lot of the guys have played with and against them in the IPL. It’s not like they are coming with any mystery balls or bowlers. It’s just down to preparation.”

With rain around, South Africa held an optional practice session on Friday to remain “mentally fresh.” They will go full tilt at training on Saturday to make sure they are fully ready to take on India.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent

ESPN Sports Media Ltd.