Kolkata: South Africa skipper Temba Bavuma on Wednesday warned they are not up against a “Mickey Mouse team” in their World Cup semi-final against Australia amid feverish expectation of reaching their first championship match.
The Proteas won seven of their nine league matches to finish second in the 10-team table to book a final-four clash in Kolkata on Thursday.
That run included a 134-rout of the Australians at Lucknow four weeks ago.
Five-time champions Australia are coming off seven straight wins at the tournament.
“A lot of people believe that this could be the year that we see ourselves in the final,” Bavuma, who remains doubtful to play the semi-final due his hamstring injury, told reporters.
“We’d like nothing better than that. But we also respect the game of cricket. We’re not coming up against a Mickey Mouse team. Australia have a lot of experience and confidence in knockout games like this, so we’ve got to respect that.”
The most shocking World Cup exit for South Africa was their 1999 semi-final loss to Australia after the match in Birmingham ended in a tie and their rivals went through due to a better group finish.
Australia also easily came out on top in a 2007 semi-final clash between the teams in the Caribbean.
Bavuma said the mindset of his team remains confident ahead of the knockout contest.
“From a skill point of view, from a physical point of view, the guys are quite confident,” said Bavuma.
“There’s a sense of calmness within the team and obviously the normal level of anxiety that you would expect of going into the game tomorrow.”
He added: “But I think we’ll take a lot of confidence with our performances up until this point.”
Bavuma said he will look to play two frontline spinners, Keshav Maharaj and Tabraiz Shamsi at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.
“Obviously, Keshav and Shamsi. We have Aiden (Markram) as well, who also gives us an option there. Then I think it’s just finalising in terms of the three seamers, who that may be,” he said.
Maharaj, a left-arm orthodox bowler, has claimed 14 wickets in nine matches while left-arm wrist-spinner Shamsi has seven off just three games.
Bavuma also praised wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock for leading the batting charge with his 591 runs, second only to India’s Virat Kohli.
“Quinton’s been magnificent for us,” said Bavuma.
“At one point he was the leading World Cup scorer as well. Knowing Quinton, I don’t think he’s really paying much attention to all of that. I think his focus is on contributing as best as he can for the team.”
De Kock, 30, will quit One-day International cricket when this tournament is over.
Bavuma said South Africa’s cricketers are taking inspiration from the Springboks’ second straight Rugby World Cup title last month in their quest for global glory in India.
“I think to a large degree we look at them in awe, the Springboks and how they’ve gone about their back-to-back wins within the World Cup,” said Bavuma.
“Obviously, the way they won it this year with the knockout games being quite close and again how that resilience, how that do-or-die attitude came through.
“That’s what we’ve been speaking about as a team that when the crunch moment comes, when the pressure moments come, we come together as a team and we find a way to get over the line.”