SYDNEY, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Australian attempts at mind games ahead of the test series against South Africa were at worst irrelevant and at best a motivation to the tourists, captain Graeme Smith said on Thursday.
Individual plans for targeting South African players, including psychological profiling, supposedly derived from an Australian team dossier were published in the Courier-Mail newspaper on Thursday, the eve of the first test at the Gabba.
Smith, however, backed his team, unbeaten on the road in test series for six years and coming to Australia fresh from having earned the number one ranking by beating England in England, to brush off any attempts to get under their skin.
“It doesn’t really make a difference to be honest with you,” Smith told reporters at the Gabba.
”We know in our minds what we’re expecting over the next few days. The most important thing for us was our preparation. I think we’ve done that really well and we’re looking forward to starting tomorrow.
“In terms of that stuff, it’s neither here nor there, it’s all going to start tomorrow.”
Four years ago, South Africa won a tight three-match series 2-1 for their first triumph on Australian soil. That was under the guidance of Mickey Arthur, who now coaches the hosts.
Arthur has obviously shared his knowledge of the South Africans with his new charges and made a few public comments about perceived weaknesses, most notably that top ranked pace bowler Dale Steyn did less well against lefthanders.
“Certainly the stuff in the papers and maybe Mickey has said has only added motivation for us,” Smith said, adding for emphasis: “They’ve certainly touched the motivation button.”
That said, though, Smith said he expected a businesslike approach from his team during the Brisbane test, which is followed by further matches in Adelaide and Perth.
“When you play in other people’s back yards, there’s a different kind of pressure. You need to be able to handle different things. In recent memory in England, we were able to show that,” he said.
”We were able to perform under pressure, we were able to stand up at key times. When good teams play each other, there’s small margins. You need to be able to handle those small margins better than the other team if you are going to be victorious.
“Our goal is to match up again like we did in 2008 and 2009. I don’t expect us to be too emotional about things, I think if we can be really focused and clinical in the next five days, I’ll be happy.”
Like Australia, South Africa are still weighing up whether to play four quicks in Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Rory Kleinveldt on what is expected to be a bouncy Gabba track.
Smith suggested, however, they would be unlikely to rest spinner Imran Tahir to make way for uncapped paceman Kleinveldt.
“We’ve backed our spinner a lot in the last few years and it’s given us a lot of success and balance in our team,” he said.
“We’ll have to have a look at it but we’re pretty sure which way we’ll go.”
Even if they could lose the top ranking with defeat in the series, South Africa look the most likely team to dominate test cricket in the way the Australians once did - a fact that has not been lost on Smith and his team mates.
“We would love the opportunity to create a legacy but you’ve got to take steps at a time,” he said.
”There’s been a number of teams that have touched the number one ranking. This is the next stepping stone for us and it’s tough challenge.
“We believe we have the capability, but you’ve got to go and earn it.” (Editing by Greg Stutchbury)