The Proteas will seek to cover all their bases ahead of the first Test match against Australia at Newlands on Wednesday, says middle-order batsman Ashwell Prince.
“Preparation-wise, we don’t want to leave any stone unturned,” Prince told reporters in Cape Town on Monday.
“In a two-match series against Australia, you can’t afford to get off to a slow start or lose too many wickets in a session. You have to make sure you get those partnerships going and grind it out, with bat-and-ball, and put the pressure on them.”
The last time Prince played a Test at Newlands against Australia was in March 2009, where he opened the batting and scored 150 runs. But the 34-year-old said he preferred his more familiar role coming in down the order at number six.
“At the time, we had some injuries in the team,” Prince said referring to the 2009 Test.
“Graeme [Smith] got injured and, unfortunately, Neil McKenzie went through a bad patch, so we had two new opening batsmen in the side. But this [middle order] is where I’ve batted all my life and this is more the role that I’m accustomed to, and I’m much more comfortable with.”
Prince had enjoyed his first experience working under the new Proteas’ coach Gary Kirsten and acknowledged their similarities as left-hand batsmen bowling the occasional right-arm offbreaks.
“Gary knows what my game is based on and we try and just groove that as much as possible,” Prince said.
“Gary’s worked and played with a lot of players and he is trying to make sure that our foundation is solid and that mentally we’re as prepared as possible for the match.”
Although the final XI will only be named at the last hour, Prince said he had been in good form and expected to be picked, but was saddened by the fact that his position seemed to be questioned at the start of every season. He has played in three four-day games this season and scored 354 at an average of 59.
“Sometimes other people’s doubt does give you a bit more motivation, but it’s a bit disappointing that you always have to look over your shoulder,” he said.
“I feel that I’ve done enough in the past and, coming into this Test match, my form has been good, so I feel confident.”
He said the mood in the camp was good, but the Proteas were not underestimating their opposition.
“Any series against Australia is going to be a tough series. We know that they’ve been working hard — they had a good work out against the SA A side on a sporty pitch — so it goes without saying that they’ll be tough and come hard at us.”
With two spinners, in Paul Harris and Imran Tahir, and seamer Vernon Philander in the squad, the selectors have various options available and will leave their decision as late as possible, depending on the weather conditions.
“It’s never happened in my career where we’ve played with two spinners in South African conditions,” Prince said.
“If the conditions are suitable, then it’s an option. We’ll keep a close eye on the pitch situation, especially the weather being dodgy over the next couple of days but with 14 guys in the squad, at this stage, anyone can still get themselves in the starting XI.”
Prince said Jacques Rudolph had been welcomed back into the squad after a five-year absence and, after scoring runs for both Yorkshire and the Titans, he had developed into a top-class batsman.
“There’s only one way to get back into the team and that’s to bang the door down and Jacques has certainly done that.”
It was not all about form, however, and Prince said it would also be a mental battle against Australia.
“It’s not about the pretty cover drive,” he said.
“You’re not going to get too many chances to hit one of those. It’s definitely a mental battle. The Australians like to play the game aggressively, whether they’re batting or bowling.
“If they’re batting, they’re up at 3.5 or four runs an over, so they come at you hard and, when they’re bowling, they’re also coming at you.
“In Test cricket, there’s no place to hide.” — Sapa