Proteas look to solve Aussie puzzle

South Africa’s Graeme Smith on Wednesday confronts a riddle that no captain has so far unravelled — how to beat Ricky Ponting’s Australians in the World Cup.

Smith has already failed once when his team were well beaten by Australia in a group match at St Kitts last month, but he hopes to be second-time lucky when the two sides clash in the semifinal at Beausejour, St Lucia.

Defending champions Australia are unbeaten in their last 27 Cup matches with their last defeat coming against Pakistan at Leeds in the 1999 edition.

South Africa are the only team that came close to beating Australia during this impressive run when they tied their semifinal in 1999 before bowing out on inferior net run-rate.

Smith said his side would have to raise their levels from the 83-run defeat in St Kitts.

”Australia have played good cricket throughout the World Cup and I don’t think we’re expecting them to play a bad game,” he said.

”We’re hoping to beat the best Australian team and that’s the way we are preparing and we’re putting things into play.”

Ponting began the tournament with a hundred against Scotland in a group game and went on to reel off four half-centuries to emerge his side’s second-highest scorer after Matthew Hayden with 480 runs in nine matches.

It was a tribute to his skilful leadership that Australia succeeded in maintaining their lofty standards just when it seemed that the opposition had found ways to stop the juggernaut.

Australia had entered the tournament with five successive defeats — two against England in a triangular home one-day series and three in New Zealand despite posting big totals.

But in the Caribbean, Australia have been unbeaten and have looked unbeatable with nine wins in nine matches.

Hayden, the tournament’s leading scorer with 580 runs, said: ”I think we are just running our own race at the moment. We are playing our own cricket. We are demonstrating that we are very dominant.”

Hayden smashed the World Cup’s fastest-ever century in the match at St Kitts, making 101 off 68 balls as Australia piled up 377-6.

South Africa were then bowled out for 294 despite Smith and AB de Villiers giving them a flying start with a 160-run opening stand.

Hayden believes Australia have the mental edge.

”Last time we played better than them and you could tell by the looks on their faces they were intimidated by us,” said the burly opener.

A lot of credit for Australia’s Caribbean supremacy goes to Ponting.

He may not have had the services of key all-rounders Andrew Symonds and Shane Watson in all the matches, but he hasn’t let it affect his team’s performances.

Ponting was in a similar situation in the 2003 edition in South Africa when he lost leg-spinner Shane Warne, who failed a drugs test, and then paceman Jason Gillespie after a couple of matches.

But his team still went on to win a third World Cup.

Like Ponting, Smith also has been in good form having scored 441 runs in nine matches with five half-centuries.

Smith was the youngest South African Test captain at 22 when he took over from Shaun Pollock after the hosts’ disastrous 2003 Cup campaign, which saw them bow out of the tournament before the Super Six stage.

The left-handed opener is convinced Australia can be beaten.

He set up his team’s incredible chase with a 55-ball 90 in the fifth and final one-dayer last year in Johannesburg where the hosts surpassed a massive Australian total of 434-4 with one wicket and one ball to spare. — Sapa-AFP

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