CAPE TOWN – Proteas captains and World Cup trophies in the same room are not a common occurrence.
So, before Faf du Plessis walked into the Newlands media centre on Tuesday, the joke going around was that “it’s the closest a Proteas captain has been to a World Cup trophy”.
But of course, Du Plessis is a modern man and a modern skipper. While some leaders in sport opt to rather not get too close to the silverware beforehand, the South African captain wasn’t shy to get his hands all over the sparkling gold and silver ornament.
“I’m not superstitious!” the 34-year-old right-hander said as he turned around to touch it again, having earlier posed for photos with Pakistan counterpart Shoaib Malik ahead of Wednesday’s final ODI (1pm start).
“It’s quite a surprise to see the trophy here – we didn’t know this was happening! So, nice to have a look at it.
“We are certainly going with a, I suppose a little bit less pressure on us as a team – in terms of going there with expectations of winning it.
“I think it’s pretty clear that England and India are probably the two favourites. It’s a nice way for us as a team to go there – the expectation of giving it a nice shot, and whatever happens, happens.
“As a young group, the guys are excited about the opportunity. A SA team at an ICC event, the chat starts… We speak to the younger players about what to expect.
“It’s very important that we are as relaxed as possible when playing in a tournament like that. I suppose we’ve gone into past tournaments where we’ve felt we had the strongest team – certainly on paper – but you don’t win games of cricket on paper.
“That’s the nice thing for me now – when the opposition look at us, we are not the strongest team on paper.”
But the weight of South Africa’s tortured World Cup history will come to the fore once the tournament starts for Ottis Gibson’s team against England on May 30 at The Oval in London.
While some Proteas teams have rather tried to avoid talking about the past – with the dreaded ‘Chokers’ label wafting in the air – Du Plessis wants his side to tackle it head-on.
“Going to my first tournament in 2011, you go in as a youngster, not knowing what’s happened before you. But as soon as you get to that stage, you certainly get to know about it then – whether you walk into the media, or the players speak about it (expectations and the past),” he said.
“Or the opposition bring it up! That does happen, when you get to the tournament.
“The thing is to make the players aware of it, and giving them ways to understand it and dealing with it – perhaps even mentally preparing for it – because when they do get there, it is not a surprise to them.
“And hopefully, by gearing up for the last year or so, when it comes up, we can manage the situation better than in the past.
“We’ve played some really good cricket in the past (World Cups), but we’ve always had little moments in a game where the pressure just got the most of us.
“For me, that’s about how do you fix that? How do you deal with that? How do you cope?
“And I hope that by talking to players, by giving them a how of getting out of it, perhaps if we do get there, they will do a bit better.”