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24 October 2014 20:33 (South Africa)
Sport

Choking - the big, black dog at the Proteas' heels

  • Ant Sims
  • Sport
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It’s not so much an albatross as a choker tag that will keep hanging around the Proteas’ necks until they actually go on to win a major trophy. But they’re in uncharted territory for the ICC World T20, which might not necessarily be a bad thing, writes ANT SIMS.

South Africa hasn’t even begun its ICC World T20 campaign, but already the questions about choking have started. The choker tag keeps on coming back like some kind of attacking dog – one that bites viciously at the heels of the Proteas whenever they enter a knockout event. And which won’t stop barking if they even come close to losing a closely-fought game.

No matter how hard the team tries, whenever South Africa loses, the c-word gets dusted off and thrown at them like confetti on a shame-faced bride at a shotgun wedding.

It’s obvious, then, that at Proteas captain AB de Villiers’ opening press conference, he would have been asked about it. The journalist in question didn’t even mention the c-word; he just innocently asked whether South Africa’s lack of silverware – despite its powerhouse status – plays on the team’s minds when it comes to entering tournaments. 

De Villiers responded swiftly and adamantly, as though trying to convince himself even more than those present in the room. 

“I am going to be very honest with you," he said. "I am going to put it out there straight up front. We have choked in the past and we know about that – if that's the word you are looking for. It is as simple as that. We have had some really bad experiences in the past, but I would like to emphasise that it is past.

"We come in with a whole new look in this team. We have worked really hard with a whole new management team, who have given us a lot of energy and new ideas. We will approach this tournament differently, and we would like to win the pressure situations. We are going out there to do exactly that." 

He’s right, of course. South Africa is slowly but sure morphing into a new team with a new attitude, a new approach, some new faces and a new way of dealing with pressure – in the Test arena, anyway. T20 cricket is whole different kettle of fish, though, and the current group of players has rarely had time together as a unit. The last leg of their England tour, which had three T20 matches scheduled, was a complete disaster thanks to the weather. They won the first match by seven wickets, had to make do with a no result in the second match, and then lost the final T20 in Birmingham in an eleven-overs-a-side clash.

De Villiers, of course, sees the positives in all of this. The captain reckons the rain, and dealing with adapting to the rain, helped them adjust to pressure situations. That word “pressure” featured heavily all through the skipper’s press conference – perhaps because he knows his charges are right up against it from the word go.

Having never played a T20 in Sri Lanka, the Proteas will have to think fast before their first match against Zimbabwe on Thursday – that same Zimbabwe which beat them in a tri-series final not too long ago. South Africa was without some of its mainstay players for that series, but with actual physical ability being just half of the battle when it comes to cricket, it’s something which will certainly play on their minds.

For De Villiers and company, the tragedy is that even if they were to simply lose and be outplayed, they’d still remain branded as chokers. Such is the curse that will haunt them until they actually win some serious silverware: so far, that choking dog is still barking at their heels.

It’s said that the best way to lose a dog that’s tailing you is to lose your scent by diving into water, though: it might just be a good thing, then, that the Proteas are in such murky waters right now. DM 

Photo: South African captain AB de Villiers speaks to reporters at a captains' news conference ahead of the World Twenty20 cricket series in Colombo, September 15, 2012. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

  • Ant Sims
  • Sport


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