Will Gary Kirsten and Michael Hussey change South Africa's fortunes?
Hiring consultants for key games appears to be the new trend. The South Africans have brought in their one time coach Gary Kirsten, who also happens to be the man in charge of the Indian team that won the World Cup four years ago, and the once ‘Mr Cricket’ of Australia – Mike Hussey.
Nothing wrong with the appointments, though, the Proteas interestingly got the two just before their game against India at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday, Kirsten flying out of Bangalore after attending the Indian Premier League (IPL) auctions.
Kirsten, who is a consultant with the team for 50 days a year, is expected to provide inputs on the Indian players while Hussey will help out the team for only the match against India.
They already have another South African great Allan Donald as their bowling coach. With the addition of the two numerically the support staff strength is as much as their World Cup squad if not more! That only shows how the South Africans are viewing the India game.
Both are also involved with the IPL in different capacities and they may not have much to share with the South Africans. The top South Africans know enough about the Indians as skipper A.B. de Viliers, Dale Steyn, Jean Paul Duminy, Morne Morkel, David Miller, Faf du Plessis, Qinton de Kock and Kyle Abbot have all been playing in the popular Twenty20 league for a number of years.
Kirsten can still talk about the three Indian survivors from the 2011 World Cup squad - Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina - while Hussey shared the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) dressing room with the Indian skipper for six years and after playing for Mumbai Indians last year, he is returning to the southern metropolis for the upcoming season.
Will Kirsten's thoughts on the Indian dressing room atmosphere help the South Africans to plan their strategy better? It would be interesting to know why Hussey has been engaged only for the India match when he could have been of greater use towards the business end of the tournament when the South Africans can run into the Australia and his inputs on the conditions and the Australian players would be of greater help.
Hussey's first tips were to batsman Faf du Plessis at a brief throw-down session, telling him how his head is falling away while playing a stroke and adjusting his helmet. Remember, the South African batsman played in the last World Cup, too, and is his country's Twenty20 captain.
Ironically, coach Russell Domingo is a great believer in skills of a player than his guts and a skilful player can always get into a mentally good space.
Domingo is right, howsoever strong a player may be mentally he can't succeed without skills or perform under pressure.
Come to think of it, no team in the world, perhaps, plays under pressure as much as the Indians, the fans back home expecting them to win every time they step on to a cricket field. They also hired a sports psychologist in the past and even had sessions with yoga gurus. Eventually, they realised that it is their performing skills that matter.
India need not bother too much about these mindgames. Having won the opener against Pakistan by a handsome marging, they should be in a better frame of mind to take on the South Africans.
Whatever their World Cup jitters or choking theories, the Proteans have an unbeaten record against the Indians in the quadrennial event, winning all the three matches they played.
If the Pakistanis argue that losing to India in the Antipodes proved a good omen in 1992 when they went on to win the Cup, the Indians would not mind their record against the South Africans getting extended.
The Indians lost to South Africa at the group stage by three wickets in 2011 at Nagpur, but went on to win the Cup, beating Sri Lanka in the final.
What the South Africans will be worried more about the massive Indian turn-out for the game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). Estimates are some 90 percent of the crowd will be rooting for the Indians, making it a home game for India.
A relative from Canberra last week called to say that his entire family has booked tickets for all key India matches plus the final at the MCG, anticipating the team to be defending the cup. Many Indians have apparently decided to back the team come what may - that's the confidence of the Indian diaspora Down Under.