Koen: "It's like the script was written that we need to be in the Final"
The Proteas Veterans face their sternest challenge tomorrow as they aim to become the first national team to win a Cricket World Cup in the country’s history.
Their run to the final, which takes place at the iconic Newlands Cricket Ground on 20 March, has been near-flawless, with wins in all but one match…their only loss coming against the very team they’ll face in the final, England.
Skipper Louis Koen is, however, optimistic that the loss against England in the group stages of the tournament – where the visitors won by 3 wickets – has given the Proteas valuable insights heading into the final.
“You know, losing against England was probably a wake up call for us at the right time. We’ve had a look at their players and we’ve got a plan. Luckily we saw a lot of Giles Ecclestone who played a wonderful innings against us at Groot Drakenstein,” says Koen.
“He’s in form, he’s a very good all-round player, he’s got a proper defence and attacking shot selection. And throughout their line-up they’ve got batters that can score big runs, and score them quickly.
“In the bowling department obviously Richard Cooper has been excellent, he bowled superbly against us, and Martin Gidley bowled an impeccable line and length on a turning wicket.
“So they know how to put pressure on, and we’ve got to learn from that. We’ve got to know where to bowl to certain batters and what approach to take with their bowlers.”
The Proteas Veterans have built their wins on contributions from all players in the team at key moments, with their best performance coming at a crucial stage in the tournament, the semi-final against Division A-topping New Zealand in a rain-affected match at Western Province Cricket Club.
“We made sure that the guys really rocked up for this match, and we had a very, very good team performance,” Koen continues. “All the bowlers did extremely well, taking wickets at the right time to restrict them to 154 in 27 overs.
“And that was really encouraging because in the other matches before this one, we didn’t bowl well in the middle overs. So it was key for us to get our bowling changes right [heading into the final] and to give us a chance to see what our team for the final is going to look like.”
Key to the preparations for the final has been the influence of experienced players such as Alan Dawson and Clive Eksteen, particularly the former who played his entire professional career for Western Province, with Newlands as his home ground.
“We’ve made sure that the experienced players in the team like 'Dawsie' and Clive are given an opportunity to talk in our preparation meetings as well as on the pitch, for example Clive talking to Lefty [Ngcece] when he bowls, Alan being close to the other seamers when they bowl, it’s been great to have their influence to guide and assist the guys.
“And going into the final at Newlands, who knows the conditions better than a guy like Alan who played his entire career there? There are going to be guys that are going to be nervous for the big occasion so it’s great to be able to call on that experience."
Koen says the team has also spent time with some of the country’s iconic cricketers to inspire them ahead of the big occasion.
“We’re having a good team talk today [Sunday] and have a run around Newlands. We’ve got Barry Richards and Mike Procter coming in to talk to the guys. Graeme Smith is due to pop in as well, and we had a braai with Brett Schultz yesterday so it’s really great, it’s almost like the script was written before the tournament that we should be in the final, and here we are,” Koen says.
“And the support has been fantastic, right from the start there have been fans backing us – I’ve never had so many Facebook friend requests! – and the atmosphere at Western Province Cricket Club for the semi-final was absolutely unbelievable.
“The organisation, the grounds, the support from Evergreen Lifestyle, it’s all come together for us ahead of the final and we’re not going to be complacent. We want to make sure we continue improving like we did against New Zealand and give a great performance tomorrow.”
Picture courtesy of MatchPixSA
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