South Africa fear their own in India

Published: Monday, March 24, 2008, 12:09 [IST]
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Chennai: Graeme Smith's South Africa will have two close friends and compatriots plotting their downfall when they begin a three-Test series against India here on Wednesday.

Former Proteas batsman Gary Kirsten, who opened the batting with Smith for 20 Tests before retiring in 2004, starts his two-year stint as India's chief coach battling his fellow countrymen.

India's support staff also includes another South African, Paddy Upton, who worked as physical trainer and mental conditioning expert with the Proteas till 1998 before being coaxed by Kirsten to join him in India.

So worried were the tourists about the presence of the two, especially Upton, in the Indian dressing room that South African coach Mickey Arthur moved swiftly to ensure no secrets were leaked.

"I called up Paddy when we were in Bangladesh recently and requested him to respect the confidential nature of his relationship with our players over the years," Arthur told reporters.

"It is similar to a doctor-patient relationship because he has worked on the mental approach of many of our players. They may have been honest about their insecurities.

"Paddy has promised he won't reveal details which are of a confidential nature."

Upton, who worked in Kirsten's cricket academy in Cape Town before taking up the India offer, played down South African fears that any secrets would be passed on.

"My professional credibility is not to be doubted," he said. "I will not reveal anything personal. Mickey does not need to worry at all.

"My responsibility now is with India. I know as much about the South African players as Kirsten. We will offer our best to Indian cricket."

Asked in a recent interview if he would exploit the mental weakness of the South Africans he had worked with, Upton said: "I would have already turned that mental weakness into a strength.

"It won't be a weakness anymore."

Kirsten, who takes over as India's full-time coach a year after Australian Greg Chappell resigned following the team's first round exit at the World Cup, is a lesser worry for the tourists.

"Gary has worked with most of our batsmen, but nowadays you would expect every coach to know everything about the top batsmen of other teams," said Arthur.

"These days no one really needs to pass on anything. It's all out there in the open."

Kirsten, 40, played 101 Tests for South Africa between 1993 and 2004, scoring 7,289 runs at an average of 45.27 with 21 centuries.

The left-hander also scored 6,798 runs in 185 one-dayers with a best of 188 not out.

South Africa come to India seeking a hat-trick of Test successes in spin-friendly South Asia after winning 1-0 in Pakistan in October and 2-0 in Bangladesh last month.

The Proteas, who took over from Australia as the world's top one-day team this month, will clinch the number two Test spot behind the Australians if they win the series in India.

The first Test at the Chidambaram stadium here will be followed by back-to-back matches in Ahmedabad (April 3-7) and Kanpur (April 11-15).

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