'The chokers tag doesn't haunt SA'
It would be not wrong to term South Africa as perennial underachievers at the World Cup.
Since their re-admission into international cricket in 1992, they were one of the most consistent teams in the mega-event, but never made it to the final.
In their first World Cup, in 1992, they made it to the semi-finals, where they lost to England in a rain-hit match. In 1996, they were outdone by a Brian Lara-inspired West Indies, going down by 19 runs. And, three years, they later lost a thriller to Australia, Steve Waugh's century guiding the champions home by five wickets with two balls to spare.
In 2003, they messed up on the Duckworth-Lewis formula and failed to progress beyond the group stages of the World Cup in their own backyard. And, last year, they came up against the rampaging Australians, who crushed them by seven wickets in the semi-finals en route to their third straight World Cup triumph and fourth overall.
So, it is but natural that the Proteas are desperate to beat the World Cup 'curse' in the ongoing tournament. And for that to happen, much will depend on Jacques Kallis, the world's leading batsman and all-rounder, who will lead their challenge.
Image: Jacques Kallis
'Go look up the word choker in the dictionary'
Kallis, who is featuring in his fifth World Cup, will be central to South Africa's fortunes in the sub-continent not only with the bat but also with ball. The 35-year-old is the leading run-scorer for the Proteas in ODIs, with 11,002 runs in 307 matches, and starred with the bat in the last World Cup, aggregating 480 in seven innings.
With experts and fans conveniently calling South Africa 'chokers', they have become used to the tag. But on Tuesday, in Delhi, Kallis choose to dismiss it.
"We certainly don't talk about it, we don't even think about it. I think the word choker gets used far too often every time a team loses nowadays. People need to go and really look up the word choker in the dictionary and get their definition correct. It is certainly something that doesn't haunt us," Kallis said.
He pointed out that 11 players in their squad haven't played in a World Cup before, so the ghost of the past would not haunt them.
"We have a lot of young players; I think 11 out of the 15 haven't played in a World Cup before, so that doesn't even cross our mind. We don't worry about the past and we just look to play good cricket when we need to and relax away from the game of cricket."
Image: Graeme Smith (L) chats with Kallis during Tuesday's practics
'Tahir Imran has fitted well in the squad'
Kallis believes the depth and variety in South Africa's pace attack gives them the edge in the mega-event.
"I think we have a good variety in our attack. We have good fast bowlers, who have produced the goods in the last few years. We have got some interesting spinners, we got an old guy, an old all-rounder who bowls every now and again.
"Like I said, we have got a nice cover of varied attack that we can use in conditions and, hopefully, adapt to the conditions no matter what cricket is given. From that point of view we have got our bases covered and we just need to produce the goods now," he said.
He pointed out that the inclusion of Pakistan-born leg-spinner Tahir Imran has given their bowling attack a new dimension.
"It is something different. We haven't had a leg-spinner play for us in a very long time. I think the last unorthodox spinner we had was Paul Adams. It brings something different and puts a little bit of doubt in the batsman's mind. He has fitted well into the squad. We have now got a leg-spinner, off-spinner and a left-arm spinner so the variety that we got to choose from is fantastic."
Image: Pakistan-born leg-spinner Tahir Imran
'The guys are in a relaxed frame of mind'
Having seen their intensity in preparation in the last few weeks, Kallis believes this could well be South Africa's time.
"It has been a fantastic two-and-half weeks. Most of our preparations have already been done and it is the finishing touches that we have got left for today and tomorrow.
"As far as preparations go, we have been as well-prepared as we have for any other World Cup. Probably, we are better prepared and the guys are in a relaxed frame of mind. Having spent two-and-half weeks here it has been a slow build-up but the guys are ready and raring to go.
"So, preparation-wise, I don't think we could have asked for or done anything better," he said.
Image: Dale Steyn (R) prepares to bowl in the nets
'The West Indies is a dangerous side'
South Africa open their campaign in the World Cup against the West Indies in Delhi, on Thursday. The Windies is an opponent who has given them a few headaches in the past. They twice beat South Africa in four matches, including the shock upset in the quarter-finals of the 1996 World Cup.
"They are a dangerous side. They got few players who can change a game and we got to be on top of our game. You can't take any side lightly here because one result goes against you it puts you under pressure.
"Having said that we have played some really good cricket against the West Indies off late and we have been on top of them for a while.
"Hopefully, we can start well and put the pressure back on them. We played them recently in the West Indies and did well there. We probably go in as favourites but that doesn't mean anything going into the game," said Kallis.
Image: South Africa captain Graeme Smith (R) talks to his team's batting consultant Duncan Fletcher
'It's an open tournament'
Though India are tipped by many to win the World Cup, South Africa's veteran player believes the pressure of living up to expectations of home fans would be a major hindrance.
"I believe it is an open tournament. I don't think there is anyone who stands out as the favourite at the moment.
"Lot of people are talking about India, but we know what it is like to play with the pressure of being at home so that probably negates the home advantage. It is going to boil down to who gets to the next stage and once you get down to the quarter-finals, semi-finals or the final anything can happen on the day because the teams are so evenly matched.
Image: Hashim Amla (R) bats in the nets as his captain Graeme Smith watches
'People still enjoying the 50-over format'
"I think the teams that are going to play the best cricket under pressure in those games and in one or two league games as well will be standing on top at the end," he said.
Kallis is also delighted with the response the World Cup has got in the sub-continent. He feels it proves that 50-overs cricket is still popular among the fans.
"The World Cup has grown bigger and bigger every year. It is something that I have noticed and it is no different this year. I think this is the biggest one that I have seen. People have been most excited about it and everywhere you go, you see people talking about it, whether in India or Bangladesh and back home there is a lot of talk too about the World Cup.
So it keeps growing bigger and bigger every year. It is great that the players can come out and put up a show and people are still enjoying the 50-over format of the game. When it comes to ODI cricket it is the Cup that everyone wants to win."
Image: Hashim Amla
'T20 has been a revelation of the game'
He added that the introduction of Twenty20 has livened up the other two formats and both batsmen and bowlers constantly keep coming up with new skills.
"There is no doubt that T20 has changed not only the way ODI cricket is played but the way Test cricket is played too. Players take a lot more risk now when chasing and when run rates get up to 8 or 9, teams don't panic anymore because they know they have chased it down in T20 cricket.
"I think T20 has been a revelation of the game. It has made the batters play more freely and with a lot more open mind and a lot more new shots have come up.
"Also on the bowling side, I think bowlers have developed new skills because of T20 cricket and that plays a role in ODI cricket as well. I think it has been really good for the game."
Image: Kallis relaxes after batting practice