Lately, South Africa seem to find themselves more and more in situations representing past failures. They face England in a semi-final of an ICC event on Wednesday – the last time that happened they needed 22 runs off one ball. Can they continue slaying their demons past? AB de Villiers thinks so. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
Last year when South Africa started their tour of England at The Oval, there was a distinct anticipation for breaking some of the hoodoo they seemingly had at the ground. They’d never won a Test there and for those who believe in ominous signs, they were all around. But South Africa triumphed and broke the shackles, hammering England and getting their campaign off to a thundering start.
They return to this ground almost one year later, and in pyjamas after having lost there to England in the one-day series that followed the Tests and they have more hoodoo to shake off. The last time the two sides met in an ICC knockout even was in 1992 when the infamous 22-runs-off-one-ball incident left many, including South Africa’s current skipper AB de Villiers, in tears.
“I watched that game. It’s a long time ago, and it was quite sad actually. I think I was crying that night, similar to what happened in the ‘99 World Cup,” De Villiers said. But that’s done and past now and the current South African side seeming to have the ability to bounce back and conquer all the old demons. De Villiers insists that it’s not something that is bothering his side and he is hoping the Proteas can cause a bit of an upset.
“It’s a new game, we’re a fresh team. Like I said, what happened in the past doesn’t bother us. We know what we’re about as a team and as a unit and we are all really excited about tomorrow. Like I said, we have a great opportunity to do our country proud and we’ll just take it one step at a time, make sure we do the basics well early on and then hopefully achieve a big upset in the result,” De Villiers added.
South Africa haven’t won a one-day match at the Oval since 1999 and they have played three there since then. Their overall one-day record in England against England is equally shaky. While the ODI series between the two sides was drawn there last year, they have won just seven out of their 21 matches played in the country, losing two and two games washed out.
South Africa will be heading into the contest as underdogs. England, save for their middle order, have played some solid cricket in the competition and they looked like a solid unit when they beat New Zealand in a truncated match on Sunday.
The pressure is on the Proteas to prove that they can continue to play out of their skins and overcome tricky situations when the pressure really is on. They head into the semi-final with a massive red arrow of “chokers” hanging over their heads. While it’s a tag often bandied without any substance, it’s one the side has come to accept. They have made peace with the fact that so long as they don’t go home with any silverware, they will be labelled as chokers, even if they are simply out-played on a day.
From a psychological perspective, that will stand them in good stead. One of the best ways to overcome your fears is to arm them and then slay them and South Africa have certainly done that. They’ve managed two crucial results in two crucial games on the trot and if there were such a thing as momentum, they’d have taken it.
The only downside to their destiny is the English weather. While British forecasts are about as reliable as an Australian batsman, there were some suggestions that it might rain on Wednesday. If it rains hard enough for the match to be completely washed out, it is England who will progress as they top their group.
That system might seem harsh and callous, but it rewards consistency and ensures the better teams get into the finals of the competition. South Africa, although they were solid against Pakistan, have not been consistent enough and if rain were to wash out the day, it’s probably right that they do not deserve to be in the final.
However, the weather is unpredictable and South Africa will head into the match with the mindset to expect anything. Whether that’s Duckworth-Lewis or simply ensuring that there are no panic situations where unnecessary run-outs or bad bowling results in giving anything away to the opposition.
The Proteas have done a lot of mental conditioning, both in the team environment and with their excursions with Mike Horn, in order to ensure they are ready to expect anything.
“I think the most important thing there is, is to expect the unexpected. We know it’s going to happen. We know the pressure will be there. We’re playing in front of a massive crowd and everyone will be against us. I’m expecting the pressure,” De Villiers said.
“I think the whole team will be expecting that. It’s something we learned from Mike Horn leading up to this tournament: always expect what you don’t think is going to happen. We’ll be ready for that; we’re prepared for that. We have great team spirit at the moment and I have full confidence in all the players around me.
“It’s not up to one or two or three guys. I know each guy on the team can win the game for us. We’ve worked very well under Gary Kirsten. He really allowed us to free up our minds and really just show our skills under pressure. That is exactly what we’re going to do tomorrow,” De Villiers concluded. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Ryan McLaren (2nd L) celebrates with AB de Villiers after their team defeated Pakistan in the ICC Champions Trophy group B match at Edgbaston cricket ground in Birmingham England June 10, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown