As South Africa once again managed to find a way not to win a major tournament they have once again weakened the case against them being chokers. Even South African fans are finding it difficult to defend against and, more worryingly, are starting to believe it.
!996 at the World Cup in Pakistan and India the Proteas breeze through the group stage easily disposing of the likes of Pakistan, England and New Zealand, and are looking firm favourites for the trophy. They lose in the quarter final to the West Indies, who had earlier lost to Kenya. One game lost and they’re out.
In England at the 1999 World Cup there was the famous. infamous for South Africans, tie against Australia that knocked the South Africans out at the semi final stage, after all the hard work had been done, and victory seemed certain.
In 2003 in their home World Cup South Africa made a mess of basic math and were eliminated at the group stage thanks to a rain interrupted match against Sri Lanka. If they’d scored one more run they would have been through to the next phase.
This year in the West Indies South Africa completely succumbed to pressure and were blown away by the Aussies.
And last week in the T20 World Cup they meekly bowed out after a tame batting performance against India. They had won their 4 previous matches against the West Indies, where they chased a record score down easily, Bangladesh, England and New Zealand, and had looked like the strongest team in the competition. When it mattered most they came up short. Not only did they capitulate so tamely in that match against India, but they knew that they only needed 126 to make it through to the semi’s and not the target to win the match of 154. They failed to reach either, and just like in 1996 one defeat saw them knocked out.
Of course South Africa are not the only team that seems to find it hard to cross over to a winning team, New Zealand regularly make the semi finals of World Cups, and manage to lose that important game. But the consistency that South Africa manage to shoot themselves in the foot is alarming. They have the talent and ability to be the best in the world, but whether or not they believe it is another matter. They need the self confidence to get over this vital flaw in their make up if they are to realistically hope to win a major title. Over the years they have been ranked number one in ODI’s a number of occasions, raking up the necessary wins to get to that point, yet in a World Cup they always fall short. The 438 game against Australia should have been the moment they buried the choker tag once and for all and launch themselves as the top team in ODI cricket. Sadly nothing changed from there. It should have been the confidence booster they needed, they know they are good enough, even in pressure situations. Yet Australia once again dominated them at the 2007 World Cup.
The coming season will be an important one for South African cricket. They have a good young crop of players coming through, and tours of England and Australia in the not to distant future to test themselves. Firstly they have a confident and well lead Pakistan to contend with in Pakistan.
The young players need experience and exposure, and that will come over the next 18 months, but they also need to free themselves of the mental hold Australia and the fear of choking has over them. Once they get over that there is no reason why they can not dominate world cricket like Australia have. And love him or hate him, Graeme Smith is the strong character needed to lead them inn this fight.