South Africa’s pre-World Cup practice facilities have come in for some criticism from fielding coach Justin Ontong, who suggested that the outfield at the Cathedral School in Cardiff was “not ideal”.

“The school we’ve been practicing at has accommodated us nicely,” Ontong said. “But just in terms of the fielding, the outfield is not ideal. It’s a little bit bumpy. But we’ve been focusing on our catching, and that’s really important.”

Unlike previous tournaments, South Africa will not go into this World Cup as one of the favourites. Without AB de Villiers, they do not pack the batting firepower of hosts England or India, but Ontong said that his team has set the goal of being the best fielding side in the competition.

“We always work hard as a fielding unit, and we know the importance of fielding at a World Cup,” Ontong said. “We’re not taking it for granted, and we know that all of the other teams are strong in this department. Our goal is to be the best fielding team going into the World Cup. That’s something we always pride ourselves on, and something we’re working towards.

“South Africa has always been up there in the top three when it comes to fielding. But going into this World Cup, all of the teams are on par, so it will be about taking your opportunities when they are presented to you in the field. That will be very important.”

South Africa’s last World Cup in England, 20 years ago, is remembered mostly for their semi-final tie with Australia at Edgbaston, but they might have halted Australia’s progress in the Super Six stage of the tournament had Herschelle Gibbs managed to hold onto a catch offered by Steve Waugh in an earlier match at Headingley. Waugh went on to make an unbeaten century, helping chase down South Africa’s 271 for 7 and set up that famous semi-final clash.

Ontong did not mention Gibbs’ lapse, but he did stress the importance of fielding in “defining moments”.

“The fielding element is very important,” he said. “If you look at previous World Cups, there have always been defining moments during games. We know about those big moments.

“From my point of view, I’m trying to prepare the guys for defining moments in the game. To make sure that we’re ready for that. It’s all about playing those big moments. We’re well prepared for every opposition.”

The Proteas are staying in Cardiff ahead of their first World Cup warm-up match against Sri Lanka at the Cardiff Wales Stadium on Friday. Their second warm-up game will be against West Indies at the Bristol County ground on Sunday, and South Africa will meet England in the tournament opener at The Oval on May 30.

“The excitement is sky high,” Ontong said. “We can’t wait for the tournament to start now. That’s all we want. It’s just the last couple of days of preparation now before that first game against England. We’re just looking forward to that first game. The guys are raring to go.”

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