Chokers – South Africa is unlikely to shed that demeaning tag anytime soon. It’s curious indeed how a team with such formidable talent manages to mess it up in all big events. For the uninitiated, the Proteas have not won a single World Cup after their post-apartheid re-entry into world cricket in 1991.
Any hope of redemption in the ongoing version of the championship has already been dented with two back-to-back losses, one to England and the other to Bangladesh. The team plays its third match against India on Wednesday and a loss here would leave its World Cup campaign in jeopardy. South Africa has a 3-1 record against India in World Cups but that is hardly a confidence-booster given its propensity to cede momentum in big encounters.
So what ails the team which boasts of so many match-winners in its ranks? Lack of talent obviously is not an issue here but lack of temperament certainly is. Nothing else explains why a team that has been consistently producing quality fast bowlers from Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock to Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada and batters such as Herschelle Gibbs, AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock would fail to bring home a major trophy from a multi-nation engagement. Individual talent has certainly not translated into group performance.
The matches against Bangladesh and England perhaps illustrates best the team’s inability to deliver in crunch situations. Bangladesh, the seventh-ranked side in the world, put South Africa on the highest run chase in the history of the Cup by setting a target of 330. The total followed some spectacularly wayward bowling and miss-fields. The experience of bowlers in containing batsmen was nowhere in evidence. In batting, the scores of 23, 45, 62, 38, 41 and 45 from the top order tell another story. None of them went on to play a big knock. None displayed hurry to keep up with the asking run rate. They fell 21 runs short.
Against England, chasing a target of 311 they were short by 104 runs. The gettable target was fouled up by lack of intent to build partnerships. The match was played at Cardiff. The team took no lessons from the experience, either on the pitch or on temperament, while playing Bangladesh next. They persisted with similar errors.
The biggest weakness with the Proteas appears to be either the lack of a plan to build an inning while batting or restrict batsmen with intelligent bowling while fielding or both. We don’t often see long, fruitful partnerships with a keen eye on the scoring rate. Settled batsmen, barring Amla, don’t display the urgency to bat deep and finish the task. It is often left to the new arrivals on the crease to do damage control. This is not easy when the competition is breathing down your neck.
The absence of comprehensive team effort is likely to cost them dear. Another loss could see them poorly placed in the World Cup table and virtually out of the race. India won’t mind that though. It would like South Africa to continue as chokers.