On the eve of the much-awaited 2008 Test series between South Africa and England, Barend Prins spoke to former Proteas coach Eric Simons.
Simons was a genuine all-rounder and a stalwart for Western Province during the 1980s and 90s, before making his debut for the national team at age 32. After retiring from first-class cricket in 1999, Simons became WP's coach before taking over the reins of the national side in 2002.
He shares his experiences of the 2003 tour to England with us.
ERIC SIMONS ON...Why touring England is so tough:
"We play with Kookaburra balls everywhere in the world, but in England they use Dukes ? the English players know them very well as they are used on the county circuit and we have to become used to them every time we go there. Also, you sense the history in the game in England, and with that comes the pressure of wanting to join the greats of the game ? which does affect some players."
"Another thing is the media ? cricket generates incredible media and public interest over there ? probably more than any other country, so players are able to follow the media reporting ? and do ? more than say the sub-continent where the media is generally a foreign language so players do not get caught up in the added pressure."
What went right during the tour in 2003:
"We got input from many cricketers that knew conditions intimately and passed on that advice in a camp we held. We had a young squad with a strong self-belief that through youthful attitude wanted to make a statement. Englishman Mike Finnigan did amazing work with the squad after the one-day series and developed real self-belief and desire to make this statement. Mike had worked with Sam Allardyce at Bolton Wanderers and is now with David Moyes at Everton."
Where it went wrong:
"Ultimately, we could not handle the pressure when it came down to the wire in the final Test. A team should never score 480 in the first innings and lose the way we did at The Oval. England did not win the last Test from that position ? we lost it. In some ways we were the victims of our own success as we scored the runs in 128 overs which meant the match moved on very quickly ? so by lunch on the second day we were virtually bowling already whereas 484 would previously take you till at least tea, and then the time factor makes it difficult for team batting second to come back."
What could have been done differently:
"Too be honest, not a whole lot. Obviously, in hindsight there were tactical things one could have done differently, but at the time it could have gone either way. Generally the tour, given all the circumstances, was a huge success for the young squad as most commentators expected a real drubbing ? unlike now where the team is held in high regard and is expected to win. "
Whether the Proteas can win in England in 2008:
"I don't think England are a settled team ? they must be going into matches HOPING someone (particularly their batting) comes off rather than KNOWING that if one fails, there is someone else to step up. I do not think they are a very confident team at the moment, whereas we are.
"The ball swings in England, and if Dale Steyn swings it the way he can at his pace, I expect him to be the standout difference between the teams ? it will be important what gameplan team management have for him and how the captain uses him."
Who the key performers will be this year:
"As I mentioned earlier, Dale Steyn, together with Morne Morkel, who I think will soon convert excellent bowling into match-winning returns, will be key. Obviously Graeme Smith ? he intimidates the English and enjoys the conditions there. We need good starts and because conditions do not probably suit him ? Neil McKenzie has a big role to play to get us off to the starts the middle order can build on. Jacques Kallis will need to play a big role and, lastly, Mark Boucher. Wicketkeeping in England is difficult and our attack needs catches behind the wicket taken ? but also this is the first time we're going into a series with six batters, a 'keeper and bowlers in the line-up (there is no Shaun Pollock to add batting prowess). Batting at seven, he could, on occasion, stand between us being bundled out cheaply and posting a score we could defend.
"From England's perspective, Kevin Pietersen ? who always raises his game against us ? Michael Vaughan, Monty Panesar, James Anderson and the fitness of Flintoff could play a role; although he seems to be past his best."
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Exclusive: Later today, we chat to world-renowned sports scientist Tim Noakes for his views on the mental aspects of touring England